Of her more than 100 films, only seven have been in English. So Catherine Deneuve said she was surprised to win an American film award.
But nobody else seemed surprised as Deneuve, an icon of French cinema as well as a global star renowned for her icy beauty, was handed the 39th annual Chaplin Award by the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Monday evening.
"Catherine Deneuve seems to have been made for cinema, and cinema for her," said director Martin Scorsese of the actress, now 68. "She IS French cinema." He added: "She seems to be getting more adventurous every year."
Indeed, a theme of the evening was not so much Deneuve's beauty _ she was famously the face of Chanel No. 5 and a muse of Yves Saint Laurent _ but her fearlessness: She is known for taking chances.
Actress Susan Sarandon referred to that facet of her career as she quipped, "I am probably the only presenter who's actually slept with Catherine Deneuve" _ a reference to their steamy sex scenes in "The Hunger," the 1983 film in which Deneuve played an Egyptian vampire.
Deneuve's daughter, film actress Chiara Mastroianni, spoke of a mother who was fearless off-screen as well, noting her involvement in public protests against the death penalty and for abortion rights. She also spoke humorously of growing up with a glamorous film star as a mother, noting that when Deneuve would sing on the streets, as she has in several films, "I pretended she wasn't my mom ... I would change sidewalks."
Also on hand at the ceremony at Alice Tully Hall was French director Francois Ozon, who recently directed Deneuve in the comedy "Potiche," reuniting her with Gerard Depardieu. He cited a famous Depardieu quote about his co-star: "Catherine Deneuve is the man I've always wanted to be."
Actually, Ozon told Deneuve, "You are the woman I'd love to be."
Taking the stage, Deneuve said she was surprised to be getting the award as a French actress. "It's very rare," she said. "It seems very special." She thanked the many directors she worked with who gave her the confidence to make radical choices in her films.
The Chaplin award has been named for Charlie Chaplin since it was given to him in 1972. Previous recipients have included Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Taylor, Alfred Hitchcock and, last year, Sidney Poitier.
Deneuve's most famous films include Jacques Demy's musical "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964), Roman Polanski's "Repulsion" (1965), Luis Bunuel's "Belle de Jour" (1967), Francois Truffaut's "The Last Metro" (1980) and Regis Wargnier's "Indochine" (1992), for which she received her only Oscar nomination.