Berri was born Claude Langmann. After gaining experience as an actor, he directed the short film The Chicken (1963), for which he won an Oscar and a Venice Film Festival prize. He directed episodes of two more films then began directing features in 1967. Writing his own scripts, Berri produced a number of semi-autobiographical tragicomedies which reflected aspects of his Jewish background. He formed his own production company, Renn Films, with which in 1979 he began producing the work of other filmmakers as well as his own movies. For Jean de Florette (1986) he won the British Film Academy's Best Film award.