04/03/2012 11:23 am ET Updated Jun 03, 2012

The Film Society of Lincoln Center Honors Catherine Deneuve

"I'm the only presenter who slept with Catherine Deneuve," said Susan Sarandon in a tribute speech at Alice Tully Hall on Monday night when the French actress was honored with the Film Society of Lincoln Center's 2012 Chaplin Award. The ensuing clip from The Hunger (1983) shows the iconic Deneuve kissing her co-star's hardened nipples. That was one of the movies I had to be a certain age to see, said Chiara Mastroianni about her feted mom; in a moment of public sharing, she begged The Umbrellas of Cherbourg star never to sing; when Chiara was little, her mother's importance grew when she saw her in a photo with Miss Piggy. The picture now hangs in Deneuve's bathroom.

One is awed by the range of Deneuve's career, dancing with Gerard Depardieu in François Ozon's Potiche (2010), in which she plays a politician. More than one speaker repeated Depardieu's line about her: "You are the woman I would prefer to be."

Mastroianni got the biggest laugh of the night: in 1971 Deneuve joined other French notables, signing a petition of women who had had an abortion: "Rick Santorum would not be happy with my mom."

Presenter James Gray said Chiara advised him to be funny. While everyone wondered what he was doing on that stage never having worked with her, the Two Lovers director explained that despite relative anonymity in the United States, "like Jerry Lewis and Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I'm huge in France."

Noting she was also a cinemaphile, Martin Scorsese extolled Deneuve's virtues as a movie lover: "She seems to have been made for cinema, and it for her." He summed up why directors want to work with her: she collaborates with directors for the films, and that's not always the case. Hollywood recognition came only once, with a Best Actress nomination for Indochine (1992).

Catherine Deneuve became an actress when a teen, joining her elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, who died in a car accident in 1967. Clips of their sister act show how beautiful they both were. Deneuve made Demy's Umbrellas (1964), Polanski's Repulsion (1965), and Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1967), all before she was 25. Finally taking the stage, her blond hair elegantly pouffed and wearing a royal blue gown, she said she was lucky in working with these directors at so young an age: they give you confidence. Drole to the end, she thanked James Gray for being funny.

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