The official selection of films for this year included Cannes perennials like Joel and Ethan Coen, David Lynch and Japan's Shohei Imamura.
Among the 23 selected films are five American offerings, four French, two Italian and three Japanese as well as the first film from Bosnia: No Man's Land, by Danis Tanovic. Twelve countries are represented in the official selection.
Lynch, who won the top prize in 1990 for Wild at Heart, is back with Mulholland Drive. Sean Penn's The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson, Oscar winner Benicio del Toro and Mickey Rourke, also will compete.
The Coens, who won the Palme d'Or in 1991 with Barton Fink, promise another taste of their unique take on the world in The Man Who Wasn't There, starring Frances McDormand and Billy Bob Thornton.
Last year, the brothers failed to score with O Brother, Where Art Thou? but the film's leading man George Clooney certainly scored with screaming fans on the Croisette. He later won a Golden Globe award for his role.
In an unusual choice, the animated film Shrek was also selected to compete for the festival's highest honor. Directed by Andrew Adamson and Victoria Jenson, the film features the voice of Mike Myers, best known for growling Behave in the Austin Powers movies, and Cameron Diaz.
French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard returns to Cannes with Eloge de L'Amour. Japan's Imamura, who won the Palme d'Or for The Ballad of Narayama in 1983, presents Warm Water Under a Red Bridge.
Promising to bring Parisian chic to the Riviera is Australian Baz Luhrmann, whose Moulin Rouge, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, opens the festival and is also competing.
The musical is set in the world-famous Montmartre cabaret in the hedonistic Paris of the 1890s and also stars John Leguizamo as the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
But the sequined can-can extravaganza may be a rare bright spot in what promises to be, thematically, a rather grim festival. Organizers said the topics this year include mourning and melancholy, loneliness and violence.
Liv Ullmann, the Norwegian actress and director who last year presented Faithless, is presiding over the main jury that awards the Palme d'Or.
The jury includes actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, French director Mathieu Kassovitz, and Terry Gilliam, director of cult film Brazil, and member of the wacky Monty Python troupe.
British actress Charlotte Rampling will open the festival and present the awards when the nearly two-week extravaganza closes on May 20.
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