For even those most accustomed to the frenzy of celebrity, the Cannes Film Festival can be a disorientating experience.
For 12 days every year, the French Riviera resort town turns into one giant seaside swirl of glamour, high art and backroom deal-making. Like some sun-drenched phantasm, all of cinema comes alive in Cannes: its serious ambitions, bottom-line commerce and crass spectacle.
"Every time I go to Cannes, it feels like I'm entering the helicopter scene in 'La Dolce Vita'," said Leonardo DiCaprio. "It's an insane experience. The entire town is turned into a red carpet. Every hotel is a premiere. But at the same time, it is the mecca for the world to celebrate filmmaking and bold filmmaking."
This year's Cannes, the 66th, kicks off today with Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby', starring DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. In many ways, the movie's lavish, star-powered decadence epitomises Cannes.
French actress Audrey Tautou is this year's mistress of ceremony for the event that remains the grandest platform for filmmakers who want to be considered among the world's elite. For studios, it's an opportunity to globally promote some of their most prized films.
Several films expected to have a big presence come Oscar season will premiere at Cannes, including Alexander Payne's 'Nebraska', a film starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father-son pair on a road trip. And few can top Ryan Gosling as a star attraction: His second collaboration with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn ('Drive'), the Bangkok noir 'Only God Forgives', promises to be one of the most thrillingly violent films at the festival.
Much of the world's attention will be focused on the 20 films competing for the prestigious Palme d'Or, which last year went to Michael Hanekes 'Amour'.
The in-competition films are a typically international group, including films from Chad (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's 'Grigris'), China (Jia Zhangke's 'A Touch of Sin') and Japan (Hirokazu Koreeda's 'Like Father, Like Son').
Passion for movies runs deep at Cannes. Sofia Coppola has experienced both. This year, she leads a particularly strong Un Certain Regard sidebar with 'The Bling Ring', a film about California teenagers who burglarise celebrity homes.
For much of Hollywood and the film world, Cannes is most importantly a marketplace, where casts are assembled, financing is sought and distribution deals pursued.
Last year during the festival, director James Toback documented the behind-the-scenes process as he and Alec Baldwin shuttled around pitching a film.
The documentary 'Seduced and Abandoned', will premiere at this year's festival.