With almost enough star wattage to forget the grim anti-terror measures in place, the Cannes film festival opens Wednesday with Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society” starring Kristen Stewart.
The red carpet awaits some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, such as Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Sean Penn, Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron and George Clooney, as the French Riviera town transforms into the film capital of the world for 12 heady and exhausting days.
The event has heaped pressure on French authorities already on high alert six months after a terror attack left 130 dead in Paris.
Hundreds of extra police officers have been deployed, with daily bomb sweeps to take place at the main venue, the Palais des Festivals.
But while rain is forecast to drench the opening, authorities have vowed security measures will not dampen the party atmosphere that lures billionaires, celebrities, film industry schmoozers and tourists to Cannes.
This year is one of the most star-studded in recent times, and “Twilight” megastar turned indie darling Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively and Steve Carell are among those appearing on the red carpet for the opening film.
Veteran filmmaker Allen, 80, gets the party started with his coming-of-age tale about a young couple who fall in love in 1930s Hollywood, which is being screened out of competition.
Allen is the narrator of “Cafe Society”, his 46th film which he describes as “like reading a novel on his life”.
The feature is Allen’s 14th presented out of competition in Cannes and his third — after “Hollywood Ending” in 2002 and “Midnight in Paris” in 2011 — to open what is arguably the world’s most prestigious film festival.
However the director told French radio this week that he “is not at all blase. I am always happy to come to Cannes.”
“Cafe Society” is also one of five films whose rights are held by Amazon, a sign of a shift in the cinema industry which is increasingly opening up to subscription services, although straight-to-streaming site Netflix is still being snubbed by Cannes.
Nearly 90 feature films from all over the world will be shown in this year’s official selection.
These include 21 which are in the running for the Palme d’Or main prize, such as “The Last Face” by actor-director Penn featuring his ex-girlfriend Theron and the latest offering from French Canadian wonderkid Xavier Dolan of “Mommy” fame.
The first of the big Hollywood films, Foster’s drama about a Wall Street tipster “Money Monster” starring Clooney and Roberts screens Thursday. And Steven Spielberg will roll out his blockbuster version of Roald Dahl’s “The BFG” at the weekend, although neither are competing for the main Palme d’Or prize.
But already some of the main competition films are raising eyebrows, with Juliette Binoche starring in a period horror “Slack Bay” about Victorian tourists eaten by the locals in northern France.
Another, “The Neon Demon”, also features cannibalism, this time among supermodels in Los Angeles according to the film’s Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who is notorious for depicting extreme violence.
Hundreds more films are showing in the film market and in the Director’s Fortnight and Critics’ Week sections.
And in a first for Cannes, the burgeoning virtual reality industry has rolled into town and will be screening several films.
The population of Cannes is set to nearly triple to some 200,000 people as film producers, industry workers and actors roll in to soak up the glamour, sell films, network and party.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has visited Cannes to ensure all was in place to secure the event, declaring an “extraordinary mobilisation” of security forces.
“We must keep in mind as we prepare to open this festival, that we are… faced with an enemy determined to strike us at any moment,” Cazeneuve said on his visit to Cannes Monday.
Police on horseback, foot and motorbikes patrolled the Croisette, a strip of beach lined with ultra-luxury stores as hardened autograph hunters braved blustery winds to set up chairs and folding ladders at the foot of the red carpet.