Claire Diao

Film Critic, Curator and Distributor
France/Burkina Faso

Voted for

The Battle of Algiers1966Gillo Pontecorvo
Requiem for a Dream2000Darren Aronofsky
Edward Scissorhands1990Tim Burton
Touki Bouki1973Djibril Diop Mambéty
Amadeus1984Milos Forman
Black Girl1965Ousmane Sembène
Spirited Away2001Hayao Miyazaki
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind2004Michel Gondry
Daratt2006Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Saint Omer2022Alice Diop


The Battle of Algiers

1966 Italy, Algeria

Golden Lion at Mostra Venice 1966, shot a few years after Algerian Independance, this film is a masterpiece about the fight for independence against French colonialism. Censored for many years in France (a few attempts at release in 1970 and 1971, a real release and broadcast in… 2004), The Battle of Algiers influenced many freedom fighters (such as the Black Panthers) and was shown to US soldiers for its representation of military strategy and torture.

Requiem for a Dream

2000 USA

This film is a real slap in the face. The use of editing, the amazing soundtrack by Clint Mansell, and the actors' performances are proof that the talented use of sound, image and direction of actors can transform a film about addition into a sickening experience of addiction.

Edward Scissorhands

1990 USA

Edward Scissorhands is definitely my favourite Tim Burton film, even if I am a big fan of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. The poetry, love and depiction of human beings, normality and exclusion is expressed in an apparent "all audiences" style which is definitely deeper than it appears. And the soundtrack by Danny Elfman will remain etched in me for my entire life.

Touki Bouki

1973 Senegal

One of the major classics of African cinema, made by a talented filmmaker who died too early. Touki Bouki is an act of freedom, a love story as well as a consideration of migration (to leave or to stay). Premiered at Cannes Director's Fortnight, the film is not so well known to younger generations. But the use of one of its images by Beyoncé and Jay-Z in their On the Run 2018 tour brought attention back to this forgotten masterpiece.


1984 USA

This is the first film I watched alone as a teenager in a movie theatre, and I've never regretted it. The extraordinary performances by Tom Hulce (Mozart) and F. Murray Abraham (Salieri), Milos Forman's wonderful mise en scène, and a script focusing on Mozart's talented journey, as well as all the jealousy aroused around him, make for what is definitely an unmissable and timeless piece.

Black Girl

1965 Senegal, France

Released the same year a The Battle of Algiers, La noire de… (Black Girl) marks the entry of African cinemas to the international scene. The first feature film made in Senegal, it revealed the actress Therese M'Bissine Diop (who was sharply criticised by the Senegalese for her performance). But beyond its unique style, this story about a maid who follows her bosses to France and kills herself, underlines Sembène's strong political background, which would drive his entire filmography to come.

Spirited Away

2001 Japan

This animated feature definitely marks the high level of Japanese animation and Miyazaki's talent. Full of poetry about humankind, family relationships and nature, this film made me cry so much that I realised how powerful animation could be, not just for children but also for adults.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

2004 USA

Yes, this love story based on a separation and the will to return to the first days of the relationship is a must-see. Starring the amazing Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet (I could also list Titanic in this poll but I know others will list it for me), with an Oscar-winning script (by Charlie Kauffman and Michel Gondry) and an amazing score signed by Jon Brion. For me, it is a lesson in terms of editing and storytelling, construction and deconstruction, flashback and flashforward.


2006 France, Chad, Belgium, Austria, United Kingdom

This Chadian feature, winner of the Jury Special Award at the Venice Festival 2006, is the best western made in Africa. Shot in a quiet way, representing hate and the desire for revenge through – apparently – peaceful relationships, this film proves that it is possible to make a powerful piece without special effects or big budgets but with a strong cast (Haroun's favourite actors Youssouf Djaoro, Ali Bacha Barkaï) and an intelligent use of the offscreen.

Saint Omer

2022 France

This film, selected for competition at the Venice Festival 2022, will become a classic. Coming from documentary, Diop makes her narrative debut with Saint-Omer. Shot in a really rough style, reminiscent of Pialat and Depardon, this feature – based on the true story of a mother who has killed her child – has stayed with me. How can a film make people cry so much? How can a representation of a Senegalese family resonate so deeply and personally with an audience? How can a mother-and-child relationship be so painful and powerful at the same time?

Further remarks

It is terrible to make a 10-film list of the Greatest Films of All Time. I have not cited Spike Lee, Euzhan Palcy, Idrissa Ouédraogo, Gaston Kaboré, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Wong Kar Wai and many others I would have loved to add. I have selected only one woman, only one animated film, no documentaries (though I strongly recommend this genre, and especially the three-hour-long Cuba an African Odyssey made in 2006 by Jihan El-Tahri). Also, I realised that most of the films in my list were seen when I was a teenager. At a time when I didn't think about how to have access to films. At a time when I didn't think about who was behind the camera. And who was on screen. I didn't care that no characters looked like me. That stories were not representing me. That people behind the camera didn't share my realities. But I loved their films. And I would love the general audience, who are used to Western-gaze and White representation, to do the same. I would love the industry to stop thinking that a film with Black characters is defined for a specific audience, that a film produced and shot in Africa is necessarily for a niche. A film is a film. Whoever is behind doesn't count: it is the power of the result that remains.