After winning international acclaim for his first feature film, the 1998 La vie rêvée des anges (The Dreamlife of Angels), Erick Zonca established himself as one of the more remarkable and visionary new directors in French and world cinema. The film, a stark exploration of the relationship between two girls (Élodie Bouchez and Natacha Régnier) living on the fringes of society in a Northern French industrial town, was a sensation at Cannes. It earned the festival's Best Actress Award for Bouchez and Régnier, and Golden Palme and Golden Camera nominations for Zonca. It also swept the César nominations, eventually winning another Best Actress Award for its two principles.
Born in Orléans in 1956, Zonca knew at the age of 15 that he wanted to be a filmmaker. The next year, he left home for Paris, where he took acting classes, discovered American cinema, and worked odd jobs to support himself. Perhaps eager to experience firsthand the culture he viewed on film, he moved to New York when he was 20. There, he took classes at the Herbert Berghoff Studio, married a Merce Cunningham dancer, worked more odd jobs, and somewhat ironically discovered European film at the Bleeker Street Cinema. He lived in New York for three years, and upon moving back to Paris, became a philosophy student.
Zonca did not break into cinema until he was 30, when he secured a film apprenticeship. He soon became an assistant and then moved on to directing television documentaries. In 1992, Zonca directed his first film, the short feature Rives. Two years later, he made a second short, Eternelles, and followed that in 1997 with a third, Seule. Zonca has stated that what was most important to him about these films was the bare communication of human emotion, and this proved to be a priority for his feature-film directorial debut, The Dreamlife of Angels.
An intensely sparse film, Dreamlife is carried entirely by the relationship between its two female leads, and to a lesser extent by the relationships between the leads and the people they encounter in their everyday lives. Zonca's successful -- and fairly devastating -- rendering of these relationships provided him with international acclaim, no small feat for a director making his first feature-length film. In 1999, he released his sophomore effort, Le petit voleur. The story of an amoral young man living and thieving on society's fringes, it is told largely from the protagonist's point of view. Instead of offering moral judgement, it questions where to place the blame for his condition. The film premiered at the 1999 Cannes Festival, and went on to be screened at the Toronto Film Festival that same year.