French actress Catherine Deneuve awarded Japan's highest Arts prize

The French actress, and the star conductor Riccardo Muti, are among those honored with the Praemium Imperiale. The Japanese award is often billed as the Nobel Prize for the Arts.

Revered French actress Catherine Deneuve has been awarded one of the world's most important culture prizes, the Praemium Imperiale.

The winners were announced by the nomination committee at the Japanese Embassy in Berlin on Wednesday, who recognized the 74-year-old movie star, along with the Italian conductor Riccardo Muti and the Belgian-French painter Pierre Alechinsky.

Other prizes were awarded to the Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya and the French architect Christian de Portzamparc. They will all be formally recognized at an awards ceremony in Tokyo on October 23.

The Praemium Imperiale, sometimes called the Nobel Prize for the Arts, is awarded by Japan's imperial family and endowed with the equivalent of €116,500 ($136,000).

Always hitting the headlines

Deneuve is not only an award-winning film and theater actress known for her often-glamorous roles. She also regularly courts controversy with her outspoken views on politics and social issues.

Last year, at the height of the #Metoo debate that followed allegations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein and others, she warned in a controversial letter published in the French daily Le Monde against a "campaign of hatred" towards men, and complained that the discourse only served the enemies of sexual freedom.

Muti is a veteran of the international music business. From Berlin to Vienna and the New York Philharmonic, there is hardly a top orchestra he has not conducted. In 2018, he led the world-famous New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic for the fifth time.

Illustrious winners' list

Unlike Deneuve and Muti, the Belgian-French painter Pierre Alechinsky leads a more private life. His last important exhibition took place some years ago. So it is likely that the 90-year-old, who uses Japanese calligraphy and Chinese ink techniques, has been selected for his life's work, in which he has also utilized ceramics, prints and paintings.

With his lifetime of work, Belgian painter Pierre Alechinsky has also been honored

Fujiko Nakaya, born in Sapporo, Japan in 1933, is best known for her "fog sculptures," in which she experiments with water, air and clouds. Revered as a "fog artist," Nakaya staged an astounding fog landscape at London's Tate Modern in 2017. Inspired by her father, an experimental physicist and meteorologist, she says her installations help one come to terms with nature.

"London Fog" by Fujiko Nakaya at London's Tate Modern in 2017

French architect singled out

The internationally acclaimed buildings by French architect Christian de Portzamparc, awarded the renowned Pritzker Prize in 1994, are of striking elegance. The 74-year-old designed the new French Embassy at Pariser Platz in Berlin and has created the famous Paris Cite de la Musique and the Philharmonie Luxembourg as well.

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The Hotel Renaissance in Paris, designed by Christian de Portzamparc

Announcing the 2018 winners, Klaus Dieter Lehmann, President of the Goethe-Institut and member of the nomination committee, said the selection was proof that the Japanese prize seeks to "stimulate cultural dialogue across borders, and thus support tolerance, peace and the development of humanity."

More than 150 artists from 30 nations have received the Praemium Imperiale during its almost 30-year history, including the German painter Gerhard Richter, the legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, and European filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Catherine Deneuve — the 'grande dame'

She is one of the most important French film actresses of our time. Born in Paris in 1943, it was the film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" that made her famous at the tender age of 21. The woman with the flawless appearance and cool expression played in films by renowned directors such as Roman Polanski, Francois Truffaut or Luis Bunuel.

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Isabelle Huppert — the unapproachable

She seems unapproachable and distant. Just a facade? One who should know is director Michael Haneke (pictured left). Huppert is his favorite actress; their latest collaboration was on the drama "Happy End." The exceptional actress became famous with films like "The Lacemaker," "Madame Bovary" and "The Piano Teacher."

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Jeanne Moreau — star of the Nouvelle Vague

She shot films with almost every famous director. Moreau starred in very influential films such as "Elevator to the Gallows," "Jules et Jim" or "The Lovers." In 1965 her striptease with Brigitte Bardot in the revolutionary comedy "Viva Maria!" caused a real scandal. The legendary actress died in July 2017.

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Brigitte Bardot — the erotic icon

Speaking of Brigitte Bardot... She should not be missing from this list, of course. In the 1960s she became an erotic icon as an actress, singer and model. She made film history through her role in "Contempt" by Jean-Luc Godard from 1963. Here she's lounging with Maurice Ronet in "Les Femmes."

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Sophie Marceau — the Bond girl

In the 1980s she became a star and was the crush of many teenage boys after playing in "La Boum." After part two, the then 16-year-old got out of the contract so she wouldn't have to shoot a third part. Through the erotic drama "Descent Into Hell" she proved she was not an innocent teenager anymore. Here she is seen as a Bond girl in "The World Is Not Enough."

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Fanny Ardant — the muse

Fanny Ardant, Francois Truffaut's last muse and companion, is one of the most popular actresses on the screen and on stage in her home country. Director Truffaut discovered Ardant in a TV series and wanted to get to know her. A lunch with him and Gerard Depardieu followed. In 1981 she had her breakthrough in the "The Woman Next Door."

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Isabelle Adjani — femme fatale with humor

She celebrated her first major success at the Comedie Francaise, but it was Truffaut's "The Story of Adele H." that made her famous as a film actress. By working with many renowned directors she soon became one of the sought after cinema names in Europe — and her image changed from comedy actress to femme fatale.

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Juliette Binoche — the picky one

From a very young age, the daughter of a theater director and an actress was present on stages and celebrated her film debut at 18. It did not take long for Hollywood to take note. In 1996, she won an Oscar for best supporting actress in "The English Patient." Binoche is considered to be very headstrong: She refused a role in the blockbuster "Jurassic Park."

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Audrey Tautou — the fabulous

She is one of the divas of the new generation: Audrey Tautou. She couldn't completely rid herself of the image of the strange but lovable Amelie Poulain. The movie "Amelie" helped her with her breakthrough as an actress and she later starred in several other successful films. Tautou created a buzz internationally by playing alongside Tom Hanks in "The Da Vinci Code."

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Charlotte Gainsbourg — the daredevil

The daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg created a stir in Lars von Trier's "Nymphomanic." The film shows a woman who experiments with her sexuality in all kinds of ways. It is not Gainsbourg's first appearance in a daring role. The film "Antichrist" (pictured), also directed by von Trier, gained a reputation as a scandalous film.

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Marion Cotillard — la vie en rose

Long before her highly debated death scene in "Batman — The Dark Knight Rises" the beautiful Marion Cotillard was talked about. In 2011 she was named the best-paid French actress. Cotillard has shown that she can be very versatile — particularly in her role as Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," for which she won an Oscar in 2008.

12 'grandes dames' of French cinema

Lea Seydoux — the indie star

Seydoux is another French actress who became a Bond girl (here with Christoph Waltz in "Spectre"). She first became famous with "Blue Is the Warmest Color" — a film that both fascinated and shocked critics and audiences, particularly with its seven-minute lesbian sex scene. Together with co-star Adele Exarchopoulos and director Abdellatif Kechiche, Seydoux received the Golden Palm in 2013.

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