Filipino director Brillante Mendoza is now a Knight (Chevalier) of France.
The Cannes award-winning director is inducted into the Order of Arts and Letters, which is considered one of France's highest awards.
It aims to recognize men and women, both French citizens and foreigners, for their significant achievements in the field of arts or literature.
The Order has three grades: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), and Commadeur (Commander) as the highest honor.
Brillante received his insignia as Chevalier during a conferment ceremony held last night, January 23, in Makati City.
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) and other select members of the press were able to witness the formal event held at the residence of French Ambassador Gilles Garachon.
Guests from the diplomatic community and the filmmaking industry gathered to pay tribute to the first and only Filipino so far to receive the Cannes Best Director award for his 2009 entry Kinatay.
Direk Brillante first caught the attention of French moviegoers after the well-received commercial release of Foster Child in 2007.
This success paved the way for the Pinoy director to co-produce four films with Swift Productions of France: Serbis (2008), Kinatay (2009), Lola (2009), and Captive (2012), which starred Isabelle Huppert, one of France's most accomplished actresses.
"Tonight, we are gathered here to honor Brillante Mendoza. As an Ambassador, I must say that I am very humbled in front of Brillante because I think he is one of the best ambassadors abroad for the Philippines," said Ambassador Garachon, drawing applause from the small crowd.
In an exclusive interview with PEP, Brillante expressed his gratitude for being given this recognition.
He said, "Napakasaya ko kasi hindi ito basta-basta award na ibinibigay.
"Ito ay recognition sa body of work ko—ine-encompass niya ang culture and the arts.
"Dito hindi lang ako binibigyan ng karangalan kundi pati Filipino artists.
"Nagpapasalamat ako na representative ako somehow sa mga Filipino filmmakers dito sa award na ito.
"Nagpapasalamat ako kasi malaking karangalan ito para sa akin para sa kultura.
"Tungkol ito sa trabaho na nagawa ko na talagang binibigyan ko ng importansiya ang arts.
"Nagpapasalamat ako sa gobyerno ng France na ni-recognize nila itong mga ginagawa ko."
How does he feel that he was described by Ambassador Garachon as "the best ambassador abroad for the Philippines"?
The Filipino filmmaker replied, "Alam mo, actually, nakaka-overwhelm yun.
"Nakakataba ng puso kasi gumagawa ka ng bagay na gustung-gusto mo, tapos nagkakaroon ka pa ng ganung label at karangalan.
"Nagpapasalamat ako na binigyan ako ng ganung karangalan habang ginagawa mo ang trabaho mo ng buong puso.
"Napakalaking bonus ito na hindi mo ine-expect."
What was his initial reaction when he first found out that he would be inducted into the Order of Arts and Letters?
"Noong una, hindi ko naman alam na ganito pala kalaki ito.
"Nag-research ako at nakita ko na hindi pala basta-basta ang mga tao na binibigyan nito.
"Parang hindi ako makapaniwala.
"Akala ko kasi noon, sa embassy siya galing, yun pala sa gobyerno ng France siya galing."
Some of the past inductees are famous personalities in Hollywood.
Among those recognized for their contributions to the arts were Clint Eastwood, Chevalier (1985); Bob Dylan, Commandeur (1990); Sharon Stone, Chevalier (1995); Meryl Streep, Officier (2000); Uma Thurman, Commandeur (2006); George Clooney, Chevalier (2007); and Leonardo DiCaprio, Chevalier (2007).
Brillante narrated that he previously witnessed a conferment ceremony in France, but little did he know that he would become the actual recipient of the insignia years later.
"Actually, naka-attend na ako ng ganito dati at may opisyal na nagsabi sa akin, 'You should be given this award in the future.'
"Hindi ko yun sineryeso kasi guest lang ako sa isang ceremony, at hindi ko talaga inaasahan na dadating ang panahon na ako'y babasbasan ng ganitong karangalan."
FILIPINO KNIGHT. How does he feel about being called a Knight?
Brillante said, "Siguro label lang 'yan.
"Wala namang pinag-iba 'yan. Sa akin, label lang 'yan.
"At the end of the day, ang importante, ano ka ba talaga? Ano ba talaga ang gusto mong mangyari?"
When PEP asked Ambassador Garachon for the main reason why they chose to induct Brillante into the Order of Arts and Letters, he pointed out, "Because he is a genius and he is an excellent director and he is a real artist.
"He is not only a filmmaker, he is an artist.
"In fact, he has a vision of life in the Philippines that is always interesting.
"The French people are in love with him and he is very much appreciated in France by French viewers and he is a commercial success in France.
"He is very famous there and I think he deserves a very good recognition. That is why we have chosen him for this distinction."
Another Filipino who was inducted recently was Film Development Council of the Philippines chairman Briccio Santos.
He was inducted into the Legion d'Honneur (French Legion of Honor) on October 24, 2013.
When asked to name his favorite Brillante Mendoza film, Ambassador Garachon cited Captive, starring French actress Isabelle Huppert as a social worker abducted by extremists in Mindanao.
"I think Brillante is very original in the way he writes his stories and the actors in his movies are not acting; they are behaving.
"It's absolutely natural.
"For example, he told me in Captive, he did not tell the actors beforehand what would happen.
"So the actors came to the set. They didn't know what was going to happen.
"They knew about the whole story but they did not know the scenario so they were acting naturally.
"When they had to show fear, they were really terrified.
"When you see the eyes of the actors, they were very genuine.
"I think because of the way he shows things, he is a genius."
JURY HEAD. Brillante has been chosen as the jury head in the upcoming Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema in France.
He is slated to leave on February 10 to attend the film fest that will run from February 11 to 18.
He said about this feat, "Masaya ako na bumabalik ako sa France.
"Madalas akong magkaroon ng retrospective sa France at madalas akong bigyan ng karangalan dun, tulad ng Paris Film Festival.
"Natutuwa ako na pabalik-balik ako dun at patuloy na nagbibigay ng karangalan.
"At the same time, natutuwa ako na hindi napuputol ang relasyon, kumbaga, hindi lang ng pelikula ko kundi ibang pelikula ng ibang filmmakers."