He died in hospital in his native Brittany, his wife, fellow director Soazig Chappedelaine Vautier, told AFP.
A lifelong critic of French colonialism, Vautier is best known for “Avoir 20 ans dans les Aures”, which depicted young French conscripts being turned into killing machines during the war in Algeria.
It won him the international critics’ prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972, but like much of his work, brought him into conflict with French authorities.
Many of his films were banned or condemned by the establishment and one even landed him in prison.
He was sentenced to a year in jail for making “Africa 50”, which he shot when was just 20, and which is seen as the first French anti-colonial film. It denounced the crimes of the French army and the lack of education afforded to the natives of French colonies. It was banned for 40 years.
Gilles Jacob, the former president of the Cannes festival, told AFP that “Rene Vautier was a politically engaged film-maker when censorship reigned. He was one of the just.”
The war in Algeria, on which he made nearly a dozen films, was his great cause. Vautier was branded a traitor for making “Algeria One Nation” in 1954, and charged with “endangering national security”.