Paris (AFP) -
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 France's Jacques Audiard (winner in 2015) with 'Les Oympiades'.
They join three big auteurs that had already been announced: Wes Anderson ('The French Dispatch'), Paul Verhoeven ('Benedetta') and Leos Carax ('Annette').
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.
Another past Palme winner returning to the Croisette is Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul with his first English-language film 'Memoria', starring Tilda Swinton.
Iran's two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi will also return with 'A Hero', while Russia's renowned director Kirill Serebrennikov -- who has lately faced significant pressure from authorities -- will be in competition with 'Petrov's Flu'.
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.
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.
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.
- Hopefuls -
Also appearing during the fortnight are some special screenings, appearing outside the main competition.
They include a documentary about the troubled US filmstar Val Kilmer ('Val') and a new film about 1960s rock stars 'The Velvet Underground' by Todd Haynes.
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'.
Charlotte Gainsbourg will present a film about her mother Jane Birkin, while Oscar winner Tom McCarthy ('Spotlight') will premiere his new action film with Matt Damon, 'Stillwater'.
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'.
The press conference also spoke about the health measures that organisers promise will make the festival safe for the mass of film professionals and press -- some 18,000 have already applied for accreditation, they say.
That is far below the usual attendance, because the normally packed movie marketplace is being held separately and online this year.
France's Covid statistics are also currently headed in a reassuring direction and it is due to lift remaining restrictions in time for the event, but organisers say visitors will need proof of vaccination or negative tests every two days during the event.