CANNES, France – Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett sashayed up the red carpet Wednesday as Cannes kicked off a 12-day frenzy of star-studded premieres, parties and provocative arthouse films from across the globe.
The Mediterranean sun beamed down as celebrities marched into the festival palace for a gala screening of Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood", featuring Crowe as the legendary English outlaw and Blanchett as love interest Lady Marian.
Sean Penn, Mick Jagger, Naomi Watts, Woody Allen and Jean-Luc Godard are among the A-list celebs expected in this chic French Riviera resort before Tim Burton's jury awards the Palme d'Or top prize on May 23.
"Cannes is great glamour, great craziness. There's nothing like it in the world, not even the Oscars," said British actress Helen Mirren as she arrived wearing an off-the-shoulder black sheath dress and diamond earrings.
Thousands of star-watchers cheered as celebs like Eva Longoria, Bollywood beauty Aishawrya Rai-Bachchan, and Salma Hayek filed in to watch "Robin Hood", whose director was unable to make Cannes because of a knee injury.
Crowe hinted at a press conference earlier Wednesday that a Robin Hood sequel might be in the offing, saying that so far there were no definite plans but that if he was asked to reprise the role, "then great, let's do it."
The star of Scott's muddy, bloody blockbuster said he was undaunted by the previous films in which big names like Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner played the archer-turned-outlaw who steals from the rich to give to the poor.
The movie by Scott is a "back story" that presents Robin as a repentant soldier returning from the Crusades in the Middle East to defend a disunited England against the invading French.
"At Robin's heart is a simple thing: he is distressed by the unnecessary suffering of other human beings," said Crowe. "I think that is an age-old thought process."
Blanchett joked that "I always wanted to be Robin Hood rather than Maid Marian but the part was taken."
Movie fans and industry suits were also massing in the palm-lined resort for the launch of the 63rd edition of the festival, whose heady cocktail of deal-making, glamour and art makes it the top film event of the year.
"Robin Hood" is screening out of competition, like another major Hollywood film, Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
Stone's movie sees Michael Douglas reprise his 1987 role as corporate raider Gordon Gekko -- who coined the phrase "Greed is good" -- getting out of jail and warning Wall Street of impending financial disaster.
Nineteen films are in the race for the Palme d'Or, including works by major arthouse names like Iran's Abbas Kiarostami and Britain's Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.
Loach, who scooped the Palme in 2006, made a late entry on Monday with "Route Irish," a movie about British security contractors in the Iraq war.
The only US film in competition for the Palme this year, "Fair Game" by "The Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, looks at the former US government's bid to smear CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Cannes 2010 will also see premieres of films by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Japan's Takeshi Kitano. US film-maker Woody Allen, 74, and New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard, 79, add to the largely veteran line-up.
Asia has a strong showing in the race for the Palme, with two entries from South Korea -- "Poetry" by Lee Chang-dong and Im Sang-soo's "The Housemaid" -- and with China and Thailand also represented.
The film festival jury took a swipe at Iran by leaving one chair symbolically empty for jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi as they arrived on the stage for the opening ceremony Wednesday in the festival palace.
Panahi had been invited to join the jury but has been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since March, reportedly because he was making a film about the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election.