Russell Crowe was to swagger up the red carpet Wednesday for the gala premiere of "Robin Hood" as Sean Penn, the Rolling Stones, Jean-Luc Godard and Cate Blanchett joined the stars heading for the annual film frenzy in Cannes.
Movie fans and industry suits were also massing in the palm-lined French Riviera resort for the launch of the glitzy festival, whose heady cocktail of commerce, glamour and art makes it the top film event of the year.
Celebrity-spotters set up deck-chairs opposite the waterfront palace, the hub of the festival which this year probes subjects such as the financial crisis and the Iraq war.
Diggers shifted sand on the beach where industry reps set up tents to flog their films and workers prepared the palace steps to roll out the red carpet for the likes of Crowe and Blanchett, his co-star in "Robin Hood."
That film, by Ridley Scott, and Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" screen out of competition, while major arthouse names like Iran's Abbas Kiarostami and Britain's Ken Loach lead the race for the Palme d'Or top prize.
Loach, who scooped the Palme in 2006, made a late entry on Monday into this year's race with "Route Irish," a movie about British security contractors in the Iraq war.
The only US film in competition for the Palme this year, "Fair Game" by "The Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman, looks at the former US government's bid to smear CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Out of competition, American Charles Ferguson examines the financial meltdown in his documentary "Inside Job." He made his mark in 2007 with "No End In Sight," a scathing post-mortem of the US occupation of Iraq.
Among offerings from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, several others take on big topical themes - not least Stone's "Wall Street."
That movie sees Michael Douglas reprise his 1987 role as corporate raider Gordon Gekko, the man who coined the phrase "Greed is good."
"Cleveland vs. Wall Street," a documentary by Swiss film maker Jean-Stephane Bron, meanwhile stages a mock trial in which victims of the US subprime crisis confront bankers and mortgage brokers.
Kiarostami - considered one of the world's finest directors - presents his first film made outside his native Iran, where censorship has curbed his success. "Certified Copy" stars French actress Juliette Binoche and was shot in Italy.
Cannes 2010 will see premieres of films by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Japan's Takeshi Kitano. US film-maker Woody Allen, 74, and New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard, 79, add to the largely veteran line-up.
Critics have noted the lack of women directors.
"I think that's a pity," said British actress Kristin Scott Thomas, the host of Wednesday's gala opening.
But she added: "You don't choose a film because it's made by a woman, you choose it because it's good."
In the race for the Palm award on May 23, Asia has a strong showing, with two entries from South Korea - "Poetry" by Lee Chang-dong and Im Sang-soo's "The Housemaid". China and Thailand are also represented.
"The Cannes film festival is about big-budget films but also remarkable films made in different political regimes by film-makers with little resources," Scott Thomas told AFP on Tuesday.
The prestigious Directors' Fortnight sidebar competition promises some lively fare, with documentaries on disabled Congolese street musicians and ageing rockers The Rolling Stones.
Both groups are due to make an appearance here.
Around 10,000 movie industry types, 4,500 press and thousands of film lovers and celebrity watchers are due at the festival.
A volcanic ash cloud that threatened to keep visitors away appeared to have passed over by Tuesday after disrupting flights at nearby Nice airport. Cannes had also recovered from a freak storm last week that lashed the beachfront.Reuse content