One after the other, French actors Vincent Lindon, Lambert Wilson and Daniel Auteuil, paid to tribute one of French cinema’s living icons.
Directors Bertrand Tavernier, Arnaud Desplechin and US director Quentin Tarantino added their homage to a woman whose career has seen her star in around 150 films.
Tavernier, chair of the Festival's host Lumière Institute in Lyon, managed to avoid repeating Lindon's words of admiration, praise and affection. Lindon described her generosity, humour and love of plants, as well as listing part of her incredibly long filmography with the help of a train simile.
Tavernier turned to brief Japanese poetical style to communicate his appreciation of Deneuve with a Haiku which roughly translated read: “Strength of the wind in the willow or golden dust in twilight, the brightness of the cherry blossom, she lights up the room.”
Celebrating a French icon
Flanked by her daughter, actress Chiara Mastroianni, and Roman Polanski who’d directed her in his film, Repulsion, in 1965, Deneuve’s reaction was followed by the hundreds of spectators at the event in the conference centre in Lyon.
In the audience were some of France and world cinema’s favourites including Marisa Parades, one of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s recurrent leading ladies, as well as director Costa-Gavras.
A montage of extracts from some of Deneuve's films captured some great moments of cinema history from the surreal sobriety of Luis Bunuel’s 1967 Belle du Jour to the touching humour of her role as 60-year-old Bettie in the cigarette rolling scene from Emmanuel Bercot’s 2013 ‘On My Way’. Then came the crowning moment of the evening when Polanski placed the trophy in her hands.
He told her "When we made Repulsion I never imagined we'd come this far. Je t'aime, Catherine", they embraced, and then it was her turn to speak.
Her voice trembling slightly, she thanked the Lumière Festival for what she called an “exceptional moment”, adding that she was overwhelmed by the love and kind words she'd received for an award which she said could have been given to any number of actresses in an arbitrary way.
Deneuve helped select the 2016 festival’s wide range of movies, among which was Raymond Depardon’s 2001 documentary, ‘Profils paysans’ (Farmers’ Profiles).
Referring to the film, she ended her unprepared acceptance speech by dedicating her Lumière Award to ‘the farmers of France.’
Deneuve explained at a press conference on Saturday how personally concerned she is about the agricultural profession today, and the economic, physical and psychological pressures on farmers which push some to suicide.
The force of the ovation at the award ceremony would suggest the Lumière Prize 2016 was anything, but arbitrary.
Deneuve is a pillar of French cinema history and is faithful to the profession.
“I feel profoundly French,” she said during an event where she met with the public at the Céléstins Theatre.
She has played her part in close to 150 films to date, in recent years sometimes making more than three movies per year.
Working with directors young and old, she recognized that having been cast by a director like Jacques Démy in films like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” or the “Demoiselles of Rochefort” at a young age, had launched her own career. Today, she doesn't shy from acting in films directed by less experienced filmmakers.
For the eight-year-old festival itself, Deneuve made history by becoming the first woman to receive the life-time achievement award, following on from the likes of US director Martin Scorcese, last year’s winner.