The A-list stars will be on the red carpet, but the focus in Cannes will be on a fresh generation of adventurous film-makers
France's wealthy and starry might be preparing to flee the country to avoid taxes levied by the incoming Socialist president, François Hollande, but for the next two weeks at least the Americans are flooding in.
"American cinema is back in force," announced the boss of the Cannes flick festival, Thierry Frémaux, when he revealed that the lineup competing for the Palme d'Or this year contains six US-based movies, the strongest number for many years.
Films such as Killing Them Softly, The Paperboy, Mud and On The Road mean that stars including Brad Pitt, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Reese Witherspoon and Kristen Stewart will be climbing the red-carpeted steps to ensure that the eyes of the world again fall on Cannes, which kicks off on Wednesday.
According to Frémaux: "We will certainly feel the presence of a certain type of American cinema that we no longer had.
I also hope it's a new existence for great American flicks on an international level."
The current holder of the Palme d'Or is an American film, Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, whose triumph at last year's festival – over the French flick The Artist, which ironically went on to win at the Oscars – was widely seen as an overdue reward from the festival for one of the great, if elusive, American film-makers.
Its win seems to have opened the floodgates for US movies.
But Malick's presence and style are one-offs, bucking a typical trend that has seen American studios run shy of Cannes, where a tepid critical reception is dreaded.
Bad reviews on the Croisette make the flick a stinker before it has got its marketing campaign into first gear.
It's a fluctuating relationship, this tension between the high-minded artistic ideals of the Palme d'Or and the continuing need for glamour and commercial success.
True enough, Cannes and Hollywood eye each other like dogs in a park, yet Cannes has always loved American cinema, just as American film-makers yearn for the benediction of Cannes.
Justin Chang is a senior critic for Cannes bible Variety.
He believes the US contingent at Cannes does reveal something stirring: "The festival does almost seem to be making a statement about the vitality of American flicks and the flowering of talent among Hollywood's young guns.
We won't know if this heralds a full-blown renaissance until we've seen the flicks in question, of course – even then, who knows?"
Chang reckons that Hollywood may have come round to factoring in reaction from as lofty-thinking a festival as Cannes as an advantage, rather than running scared.
"Last year's Cannes unveiled the especially impressive trio of The Artist, Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life, all of which became major awards-season players.
Last year's showing alone should be enough to convince the studios and specialty divisions that Cannes can be an ideal launchpad."
Antoine Guillot, critic and presenter on France Culture's esteemed flick radio show La Dispute, says it's hard to know if Tree of Life's win was seen as a signal for more adventurous American films.
"The festival can court studios and directors, but in the end can only programme what it has been offered," he says.
"Certainly, we have had years when only one or two American flicks have either been deemed worthy of being in competition or have dared to put themselves forward for the tough scrutiny and hysterical media reaction flicks get at Cannes.
"That's when we have had to suffer the presence of conneries like The Pirates of the Caribbean or Kung Fu Panda showing out of competition just to increase the number of stars attending.
There's no need for such desperate measures this year."
Look closely, however, and it's not clear if this year's flicks signal an American renaissance.
Not that anyone's seen them yet, but on the surface they have very different directors from the usual American Cannes heroes such as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soberbergh, the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino.
Andrew Dominik is a New Zealand-born Australian director making his debut at the Palais with Killing Them Softly (a crime drama set in Boston, formerly known as Cogan's Trade).
It reunites him with Brad Pitt after The Assassination of Jesse James, a western that premiered at the rival Venice flick festival in 2007.
Cannes has grabbed the director and a cast that includes Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins.
John Hillcoat is an Australian film-maker debuting at Cannes, and his flick Lawless is a Prohibition-era western, written by musician Nick Cave, with whom Hillcoat collaborated on the 2005 outback western The Proposition.
Hillcoat's last film, The Road, also premiered at more traditionally Hollywood-friendly Venice, so Cannes is really stealing its thunder this year.
Lawless stars Shia Laboeuf, Tom Hardy and Mia Wasikowska, as well as Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain.
Can this sort of prestigious, semi-arthouse title, with Hollywood stylings but free from effects and superheroes, hope to win at Cannes?
Probably the best they can hope for is a decent set of reviews, providing tired critics with something a bit easier to digest than, say, a Michael Haneke or a Cristian Mungiu.
Lee Daniels and Jeff Nichols are probably the more likely candidate for Cannes accolades.
Daniels is the African-American director of Precious, which screened at Cannes in 2009, and his latest, The Paperboy, boasts a hotly awaited performance from Nicole Kidman as a femme fatale in what's billed as a ripe southern noir adapted from Pete Dexter's novel.
The flick will also bring the unlikely appearance of Zac Efron at Cannes, a real graduation for the former High School Musical idol.
But it's Nichols whom Cannes has nurtured, and last year his flick Take Shelter won in the critics' week sidebar.
This latest sees him shoot straight into competition with Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive discovered by two boys on a Mississippi island.
At 33, Nichols is the youngest director in competition, but Cannes clearly has its eye on him.
According to Justin Chang, Frémaux has courted Hollywood aggressively.
"He's a big fan of Hollywood pictures, genre pictures, etc, and increasingly seeks to shrink the gap between art flicks and commercial movies.
Cannes has been accused of resting on its laurels in the past, but you can't say that about its American lineup this year."
Guillot agrees there's a general feeling Cannes is looking to anoint a new king among directors.
"The real stars of Cannes are, ultimately, the directors," he says.
"They're the one whose reputations are made here.
Jeff Nichols is a name the selectors have been monitoring very closely, just as they have long been trying to bring out film-makers like James Gray (director of The Yards, with Joaquin Phoenix)." Guillot says Nichols, from Arkansas, is the name to watch.
"Cannes made the names of Altman, Coppola and Scorsese.
Cannes made the names of Soderbergh, Tarantino, the Coens, Gus van Sant.
Maybe this year Cannes will make the name of Jeff Nichols."
Cannes 2012Film industryNicole KidmanBrad PittTerrence MalickJason Solomonsguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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