Only Woody Allen, in 2002, Clint Eastwood in 2009, and Bernardo Bertolucci,in 2011, have been granted the distinction "given to renowned directors whose works have achieved a global impact but who have nevertheless never won the Palme d'Or," a festival statement said.
"And yet my films have never sold as much as theirs!" Varda was quoted assaying.
She will receive the award at the close of the 12-day Cannes festival May24 when the its international jury hands out its top prizes at a red-carpet ceremony.
A photographer, screenplay writer, actress, director and visual artist,Varda first came to prominence with her 1962 movie "Cleo from 5 to 7."
Born on May 30, 1928, she has made short and long films, and produceddocumentary as well as fiction works.
She won the Venice film festival's Golden Lion in 1985 for "Vagabond."
"Her work and her life are infused with the spirit of freedom, the art of driving back boundaries, a fierce determination and a conviction that brooks no obstacles. Simply put, Varda seems capable of accomplishing everything she wants," the Cannes festival said.