The French hosts were playing their first home match away from Paris, but seemed comfortable enough in the Marseille stadium to beat a flailing Italian team 34 - 17.
Italy have now lost a record 15 straight Six Nations matches.
France did not have an easy run, however. They wasted countless chances and the team performance was filled with errors.
The French side relied heavily on scrum-half Maxime Machenaud to fend off Italian attack before Hugo Bonneval scared a pivotal second-half try.
The French pack started strongly with Paul Gabrillagues going over after five minutes from a rolling maul, but Italy hit back immediately with a penalty try.
France dominated the rest of the first half but could not add a second try, although two penalty kicks from Machenaud edged them 11-7 ahead at the interval.
After defeats by Ireland and Scotland in their opening two games of the tournament and players dropped from the team following inappropriate behaviour, Jacques Brunel's first victory as France coach was paramount.
His side, without a win in eight games, were disjointed at times, but eventually delivered.
Centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who had returned from suspension after making a homophobic comment while playing for Toulon, was central to their triumph. And the team considerably raised their game for the second half.
"We're happy with the win but we're not kidding ourselves, we're quite frustrated with the way we played," said France captain Guilhem Guirado to France Televisions.