A rich crop of past Palme d'Or winners and arthouse favourites are set to return to the Cannes Film Festival in July as organisers announced a bumper selection for its competition on Thursday.
Among the 24 directors whose films are heading to the Cote d'Azur for July 6-17 are Sean Penn for his new film "Flag Day", Italy's Nanni Moretti (winner in 2001) with "Tre Piani" and Iran's two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi with "A Hero".
They join three big auteurs that had already been announced: Wes Anderson ("The French Dispatch"), Paul Verhoeven ("Benedetta") and Leos Carax ("Annette").
They will face a jury headed by US director Spike Lee, who was set to preside in 2020 before the festival was cancelled by the pandemic.
One silver lining from all the disruption of the past year has been a backlog of cinematic gold that gave organisers some 2,000 films to wade through as they made their selection for the 74th edition of the world's leading film shindig.
They are crossing their fingers that France's coronavirus stats will continue to head in the right direction, allowing the country to lift all major restrictions as planned at the end of June.
"The epidemic has not been defeated, prudence will be needed," said festival director Thierry Fremaux as he announced the selection in Paris.
"We won't be kissing on the top of the steps as usual, but the heart will still be there."
Visitors will need proof of vaccination or negative tests every two days during the event, and there are still questions around possible quarantines for foreign arrivals from certain countries that organisers hope to iron out in the coming weeks.
- Damon, Stone, Gainsbourg -
As well as the main competition, there will be the usual star-studded premieres running throughout the fortnight.
Matt Damon is expected with his new thriller "Stillwater" by Oscar-winning director Tom McCarthy ("Spotlight").
A documentary about the troubled US film star Val Kilmer ("Val") will also be premiered, as will the much-awaited film about 1960s rock stars "The Velvet Underground" by Todd Haynes.
Charlotte Gainsbourg will show her documentary about her mother Jane Birkin, while Oliver Stone will present an update to his 1990s classic film about the Kennedy assassination, having reportedly got hold of some new documents, titled "JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass".
The organisers have also teased the possibility of a major blockbuster appearing during the fortnight, though confirmed that it will not be the much-delayed new James Bond film, "No Time To Die".
- Mystery and scandal -
The opening film was already known: "Annette" is the first in a decade from French arthouse darling Carax, and his first in English, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as a celebrity couple awaiting a mysterious child.
It had also already been announced that US actor-director Jodie Foster will be the guest of honour for the opening ceremony and receive a honorary Palme.
Verhoeven, meanwhile, promises a touch of scandal on the Croisette with his entry, "Benedetta", about a lesbian nun in a 17th century Italian convent -- solid ground for the Dutch filmmaker who has often married art and salaciousness with movies like "Basic Instinct", "Showgirls" and "Elle".
It has been a particularly long wait for Anderson, who was due to present his latest quirky bauble, "The French Dispatch", at last year's festival.
Filmed in Angouleme in southwest France, it was clearly worth waiting for a proper Gallic launch, and could bring a multitude of stars to the red carpet, with Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray and Adrien Brody joined by new additions including Timothee Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro and France's own Lea Seydoux.
Other returning Palme winners are Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul with his first English-language film "Memoria", starring Tilda Swinton, and France's Jacques Audiard with "Les Oympiades".
Russia's renowned director Kirill Serebrennikov -- who has lately faced significant pressure from authorities -- will be in competition with "Petrov's Flu" and organisers said they were in discussion with the French foreign ministry about whether he could attend.
Some 18,000 film professionals and press have already applied for accreditation, though that is far below the usual attendance because the normally packed movie marketplace is being held separately and online this year.