PARIS: Cannes will roll out the red carpet for the start of the world’s biggest movie festival Wednesday, with a lineup of directorial big guns poised to go head-to-head in a year of comebacks, swansongs and star debuts. Heavyweights David Cronenberg, the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Luc Godard, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are among the filmmakers who will battle it out for the Palme d’Or.
Launching the 12-day movie extravaganza with a blast of controversy will be the premiere of “Grace of Monaco,” the keenly awaited biopic in which Nicole Kidman stars as the former Hollywood actress Grace Kelly.
Already embroiled in not just one but two rows, the film has become a high stakes affair for French director Olivier Dahan who has taken on both Grace’s princely family, the Grimaldis, and U.S. distributor Harvey Weinstein in pursuit of his cinematic vision.
There will be no shortage of star-wattage with Meryl Streep, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Tim Roth and Kristen Stewart among the red carpet possibles.
Double Oscar winner Sophia Loren, 79, one of the last great sex symbols of the 1950s and 1960s, will supply some old-school glamour when she attends an out-of-competition screening of her latest film “The Human Voice.”
All eyes will also be on debuts by Canadians Ryan Gosling and Xavier Dolan.
Gosling’s “Lost River” – in the Un Certain Regard section, which features the work of emerging artists – will test whether the 33-year-old “Drive” star can make the transition from leading man to director.
Wonderkid Dolan – who at 25 has already had three films screened at Cannes – will make his debut in competition with “Mommy.”
Eighteen films will be in the running for the Palme d’Or at Cannes’ 67th edition, with New Zealand director Jane Campion heading the festival jury.
Famed for its winning combination of French Riviera glitz and arthouse gravitas, the festival prides itself on discovering the movie world “auteurs” of tomorrow such as Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino.
Festival organizers select only a fraction of the 1,700 films submitted each year to compete for the top prize, with a competition slot at Cannes considered one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed on a director.
It will mark the end of an era if as expected Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall” turns out to be his final feature film before he gives up the director’s chair to concentrate on documentaries.
The veteran U.K. filmmaker and Cannes regular, now 77, made his name with “Up the Junction” (1965), “Cathy Come Home” (1966) and “Kes” (1970) and won the Palme d’Or in 2006 for “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.”
Others for whom this year could be their last Cannes outing include French “New Wave” director Jean-Luc Godard, now 83.
Festival chief Thierry Fremaux admits it is anyone’s guess whether the Swiss Godard will turn up for the screening of his 3-D film “Adieu au Langage.”
He skipped the premiere of his movie “Socialism” in 2010, mysteriously blaming ‘problems of the Greek kind,’” Fremaux joked last month. “He has promised to be there, which doesn’t mean anything of course.”
A more low key U.S. presence for 2014 comes in the form of Tommy Lee Jones’ western “The Homesman,” recommended to Fremaux by last year’s jury head Steven Spielberg.
The film marks the veteran actor’s first return to the competition since he brought “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” to the Croisette in 2005.
Also back in competition are Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne with “Two Days, One Night.” A win for the brothers would make them the first filmmakers to lift the Palme d’Or for a third time.
John Boorman’s “Queen and Country,” being screened out of competition in the Directors’ Fortnight, will be a festival highlight.
The British director’s sequel to his hugely popular 1987 film “Hope and Glory” comes more than a quarter of a century after that film picked up five Oscar nominations.
Asia and Africa, meanwhile, will be represented in the main competition this year by Japan’s Naomi Kawase with “Still the Water” and Mauritania’s Abderrahmane Sissako with “Timbuktu.”