Marion Cotillard

CANNES-CANNES: The red carpet race is on.

Dior ambassador Marion Cotillard and fellow French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, a close friend of Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière who also attended the Saint Laurent show in March decked out in bodycon creations by Anthony Vaccarello, will be the stars of the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival in May.

They are the female leads of Arnaud Desplechin’s “Ismael’s Ghosts,” which will kick off the 70th edition of the festival. The movie’s potentially downbeat storyline centers around a widowed film director whose life is sent into a tailspin when his former lover returns from the dead.

Unveiling the official lineup at a press conference on Thursday, Thierry Frémaux, the event’s artistic director, said the festival will be taking place in a “historic context for France,” falling “just days after an event that is playing out like a thriller,” referring to the country’s presidential elections.

“The festival will be suspended in time,” he added. “Let’s just hope that in the meantime, the situation with Syria and North Korea will not cast a shadow over this event that we hope will be a stable and festive moment.”

Nicole Kidman is also set to get some red carpet mileage with two films — Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” — in competition. Haider Ackermann loyalist Tilda Swinton will be returning to the festival for Joon-Ho Bong’s in-competition Netflix film “Okja,” costarring Jake Gyllenhaal. (Check out Swinton’s wig.)

Other films competing for this year’s Palme d’Or include Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Good Time,” starring Robert Pattinson; Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” with Joaquin Phoenix, and Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” featuring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams.

The event will also feature an avant-premiere of an installation showcasing an experimental virtual reality short by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Carne y Arena,” financed by Legendary Entertainment and Fondazione Prada and due to travel to the foundation in Milan in the weeks following the festival.

The piece explores the intense and excruciating experience of a group of immigrants and refugees crossing the border between Mexico and the U.S. It is one of several political works selected for the event, including activist actress Vanessa Redgrave’s feature-length documentary “Sea Sorrow.”

Among special projects and events, the festival will present a short film written and directed by Kristen Stewart, titled “Come Swim” and billed as a diptych of one man’s day based on half-impressionist and half-realist portraits, and Hong Sangsoo’s “Clair’s Camera,” starring Isabelle Huppert, the face of Kering’s Women in Motion program at the festival, and filmed in the streets of Cannes.

There will also be a special screening of all of the episodes from the mystery drama series “Top of the Lake,” co-helmed by Ariel Kleiman and Jane Campion, the only female director to have won a Palme d’Or in the festival’s history.

A total of 29 countries are represented in the festival’s official selection, including nine first films and 12 films by female directors, up from nine last year.

This year’s festival poster features a shot of Italian actress Claudia Cardinale dancing on a rooftop in Rome in 1959. Capturing a barefoot Cardinale twirling in a skirt, the poster sparked a barrage of online protests when it was unveiled in March, amid claims that the original image had been Photoshopped.

Italian actress Monica Bellucci will be mistress of ceremonies this year, while Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar will preside over the jury, with its members yet to be announced.

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