The former medical student turned film director was best known for his classic 1971 movie, Mon Oncle Antoine, a cinema verite exposition of a boy's coming of age in rural Quebec that won best picture at the Canadian Film Awards that year. In 1985, an international film panel at the Toronto Festival of Festivals declared the motion picture to be the best-ever Canadian film. Other films directed by Jutra include Kamouraska (Cannes Prize winner in 1972), For Better or Worse (1975), Surfacing (1979), By Design (1980), and La dame en couleurs (1985). In addition to acting in films, Jutra also directed several television dramas for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and was a founding member of Quebec's Association of Professional Cineastes.
Depressed over the onset of Alzheimer's disease, the 56-year-old Jutra walked out of his downtown Montreal apartment on November 5, 1986, and vanished. Friends fearing the worst, remembered a recent interview he had given in which he discussed the disease: "I can face death, but I cannot facing watching myself disappear from within. Nowadays, when the world comes knocking at the door of Claude Jutra, there's no one home. I don't know who I am anymore." At his home, Jutra left notes to his friends stating that if he did not see them again soon, they would meet in the hereafter. On April 23, 1987, the filmmaker's body was found in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. A note written in French contained in a money belt said, "My name is Claude Jutra." The body, estimated to have been in the water for two to three months, was positively identified as Jutra's by dental records and a small tattoo found on the right arm. It is generally believed that Jutra leapt to his death from Montreal's Jacques Cartier Bridge soon after his disappearance.