Sean Penn's The Last Face about aid workers in Africa will compete at the Cannes Film Festival this year along with movies about interracial marriage in 1950s America, illness and poverty in working-class Britain and cannibal fashion models in Los Angeles.
The festival's high glamour yet socially conscious lineup, announced Thursday by organizers, features 49 films harking from 28 countries, including Iran, Brazil, Egypt, Israel and South Korea. Twenty of the entries will be running for the Palme d'Or, the top prize at the French Riviera festival, which is being held under heightened security after deadly Islamic extremist attacks on France and Belgium.
"Even though the festival takes place in France, it is not a French festival. It is an international festival," said Cannes director Thierry Fremaux, who said the festival sifted through a record-breaking 1,869 feature entries this year.
Top stars expected to grace the famed red carpet from May 11-22 include Marion Cotillard, Shia LaBeouf, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster and George Clooney. This edition -- the festival's 69th year -- will also see the return of old Cannes favorites such as directors Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach, Jim Jarmusch and the Dardenne brothers.
Like previous years, the 2016 Cannes festival has a markedly American flavor, and opens with Woody Allen's 14th picture, the 1930s Hollywood film Cafe Society, starring Stewart and Eisenberg. It's showing out of competition.
Penn's latest directorial effort, featuring his ex-partner Theron and Javier Bardem, is likely to get top attention, alongside the festival's wackiest entry, the Danish horror film The Neon Demon by Nicolas Winding Refn about beauty-obsessed flesh-eating models.
American director Jeff Nichols is showing Loving, the powerful true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and an African-American woman who married in June 1958 and were subsequently arrested, thrown into jail and exiled from Virginia.
The interracial couple, played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, took their civil rights case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won -- affirming their right to marry.
Veteran British director Loach's I, Daniel Blake looks at a working-class man in northern England struggling with poverty and injury. Festival director Thierry Fremaux joked that Loach had backtracked on his announcement that the 2014 film Jimmy's Hall would be his last and called Loach's 2016 entry his "final, final movie."
Canadian director Xavier Dolan's new entry, It's Only the End of the World, about a dying author, is the second time the rising star has been selected for the Palme d'Or shortlist. It stars Cotillard and Lea Seydoux.
American auteur Jarmusch returns to the Rivera with Paterson -- a yarn about a bus driver and a poet set in New Jersey. It stars Adam Driver, who's moving back to a smaller film after his breakout role as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars blockbuster The Force Awakens.
Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven is in the lineup with his first French-language film Elle, a psychological thriller starring actress Isabelle Huppert. Spanish director Almodovar's Julieta is also competing.
In a mysterious reference to the Panama Papers offshore accounts leak, Fremaux said there might be a late entry from Panama "for those who follow current affairs." He did not elaborate.
Of the 20 films running for the top prize, three were made by women: Germany's Maren Ade with Toni Erdmann; the U.K.'s Andrea Arnold with American Honey, starring LaBeouf; and France's Nicole Garcia with From the Land of the Moon, starring Cotillard alongside Louis Garrel. The festival has previously been criticized for its limited offerings of films by female directors.
For the first time there will be no closing film. Instead the festival will rescreen the winning film as an "experiment," Fremaux said.
The Cannes jury is led this year by Mad Max director George Miller. Other jurors will be announced later.
Festival president Pierre Lescure said 500 security personnel were assigned to the festival and would be working with France's national security authorities.
"The maximum has been done" to strike a balance between security and "ensuring that the festival remains a place of freedom," Lescure said.