When his parents divorced when he was 11, he settled in France and gradually became enamored of motion pictures. Before age 30, he had had several careers, including film critic (for Cahiers du Cinema), photojournalist, and jazz impresario. In 1962, he and Eric Rohmer formed Les Films du Losange, a production company that oversaw the Rohmer's films, beginning with the as-yet-unreleased short, "La Boulangere de Monceau" (1962), which Schroeder narrated. After producing, appearing in and assisting with several other New Wave films (i.e., Godard's "Les Carabiniers" 1962) Schroeder directed his first feature, "More" (1969), a powerful depiction of heroin addiction. After "La Vallee/The Valley" (1972), in which a Frenchwoman goes native in New Guinea, the filmmaker earned acclaim for his feature-length documentaries, notably "General Idi Amin Dada" (1974), a portrait of the former Ugandan despot, and "Koko, the Talking Gorilla" (1977).
While continuing to serve as producer for such now-classics as Rohmer's "My Night at Maud's" (1969) and Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (1974), Schroeder continued to add to his own growing reputation as a director of note. "Maitresse" (1976) was a delicious comedy about a dominatrix (portrayed by the director's wife Bulle Ogier) who decides to quit her profession when she meets her true love, while "Tricheurs" (1983) profiled a gambler (Jacques Dutronc).
Schroeder is perhaps best-known in the USA for "Barfly" (1987), an engaging account of a low-life, alcohol-sodden writer not too loosely modeled on Charles Bukowski, and "Reversal of Fortune" (1990), a complex, multi-layered account of the Claus/Sunny von Bulow scandal starring Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close. His "The Charles Bukowski Tapes" (1982-84), a series of fascinating and highly entertaining "interviews" with the author made during early work on "Barfly", were shown on French TV and at New York's Public Theatre in 1989.
Following his Academy Award nomination for his direction of "Reversal of Fortune", Schroeder helmed the intriguing and well-acted thriller "Single White Female" (1992), in which Jennifer Jason Leigh starred as a disturbed woman who begins to adopt the persona of her roommate (Bridget Fonda). The director next took on the 1995 "Kiss of Death", loosely based on the 1947 drama directed by Henry Hathaway, which divided critics. Some felt it had improved on the earlier version, while others felt it was inferior. The director retained the themes of crime and punishment for his next few features. "Before and After" (1996) told the story of a couple (Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep) coping with the arrest of their teenage son (Edward Furlong) for murder. "Desperate Measures" (1998) was a pallid thriller about a cop (Andy Garcia) who while searching for a potential bone marrow donor for his dying daughter locates a perfect match in a criminal (Michael Keaton). "Our Lady of the Assassins" (2000) was perhaps Schroeder's most personal feature in years. Filmed on location in Medellin, Colombia and based on the book by Fernando Vallejo, it told of a gay writer who returns to his hometown and discovers it is overrun with criminals and drug dealers. The author, though, begins a love affair with one of these young thugs with tragic results. Schroeder's next film was "Murder by Numbers" (2002), about a pair of high school students who commit what they think is the perfect murder and the novice FBI profiler out to track them down.