His father was born to an Algerian Jewish family while his mother was a convert to Judaism.  Lelouch says that his first contact with cinema was very young: “My mother hid me in movie theaters when I was little. We were wanted by the Gestapo. […] Cinema, for starters, saved my life.” Of his personal faith, he says “Today I believe in God. My faith was sparked when I made a film in Israel. Over there, it is impossible not to believe in God. I loved the places of worship of all the religions. Everything which happens is for the best. I sometimes have the feeling that my inspiration comes from heaven. I think it is wonderful to be Jewish.”
His father bought him a camera, as a fresh start after his failure in the baccalaureat. He started his career with a reportage – one of the first to film daily life in the Soviet Union, with the camera hidden under his coat as he made his personal journey. He also filmed sporting events, like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Tour de France..
His first full-length film as director, Le Propre de l’homme, was decried by the critics: “Claude Lelouch, remember this name well, because you will not hear it again” – Cahiers du cinéma said. La femme spectacle (1963), following prostitutes, women shopping, going for nose-jobs, was censored for its misogynist tendency. A Man and a Woman changed his fortunes and was met with favour even by the Cahiers group.
The 1981 musical epic Les Uns et les Autres is widely considered as his masterpiece, and his credits now add up to 50 or so films. His 1976 film, C’était un rendez-vous, purportedly features a Ferrari 275 GTB being driven at extreme speed through the streets of Paris at dawn. The entire short is shot from the point of view of the car. Legend has it that Lelouch was arrested after it was first shown publicly.
He collaborated more than two dozen times with composer Francis Lai. They scored a great hit with the theme song for the film A Man and a Woman sung by Nicole Croisille and Pierre Barouh, and more than 300 versions of the song exist.