A cool-looking Marcello Mastroianni stared down at passers-by in Cannes Tuesday, as Hollywood heavyweights and first-time directors poured into the French Riviera resort for the world's biggest film festival.
The portrait of the late Italian heartthrob peeking over his sunglasses adorned the facade of the festival hall overlooking the Mediterranean, where stars will be treading the red carpet Wednesday when the 67th Cannes Film Festival officially kicks off.
Ryan Gosling, David Cronenberg, Ken Loach and Sophia Loren are just some of the A-list celebrities due to make an appearance at the 12-day glitzy event, which kicks off with the world premiere of controversial biopic "Grace of Monaco" starring Nicole Kidman.
And in a particularly original stunt, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- the stars of all-action romp "The Expendables 3" -- are due to arrive in town on Sunday onboard a tank.
The festival is known worldwide for its mix of art house gravitas and extravagance.
Every year, movie stars, industry executives, journalists in their thousands and curious onlookers pour into the Riviera resort that lives and breathes cinema for close to a fortnight, briefly tripling its population from just over 73,000 to more than 200,000 people.
- Tight security -
Luxury hotels on Cannes' famed Croisette seaside promenade fill up with the great and the good, with suites going for tens of thousands of euros.
The upmarket Carlton hotel will house New Zealand director Jane Campion, president of a jury that includes Mexico's Gael Garcia Bernal and Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke.
The nine-member jury will sit down for a Tuesday evening dinner ahead of the opening at the aptly-named, Michelin-starred "La Palme d'Or" restaurant.
Thousands of plants have been rolled out for the occasion and close to 700 police officers are on hand to ensure security and prevent high-profile jewellery robberies of the kind experienced last year.
Private beaches have been temporarily transformed into nightclubs or trendy eateries. In big hotels, suites booked by fashion houses have turned into showrooms.
A total of 18 films are contending for this year's coveted Palme d'Or prize, including Loach's "Jimmy's Hall" that may turn out to be the final feature film from the 77-year-old Cannes veteran.
Heartthrob Gosling, meanwhile, will start out at this year's event with his directorial debut "Lost River", and films by 25-year-old Canadian whizz kid Xavier Dolan, 83-year-old Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard and "Men in Black" actor Tommy Lee Jones will also compete.
Cannes-lover Quentin Tarantino will close the festival with a blast to the past, showcasing "A Fistful of Dollars" starring Clint Eastwood to mark the 50th anniversary of Spaghetti Westerns.
- Money-making and glitz -
Dany Go-in, a 58-year-old from a nearby town, was planning to catch peeks of celebrities for the length of the festival, her little stepladder firmly parked in front of the 24 steps leading up to the festival hall, known as The Bunker for its imposing architecture.
"We're amateurs," she said, pointing to the 50-or-so other curious onlookers who had lined the pavement with chairs and stepladders -- some since Friday.
"I take photos and they're for my albums. I've seen loads of stars -- Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, (French actor) Alain Delon..."
Aside from the star quality, the festival is a huge, money-making machine as producers and distributors get together to haggle over new projects.
The annual event costs a whopping 20 million euros ($28 million) to put together, but generates much more in business deals and tourism, with hotels making around 15 percent of their yearly turnover during the event.
As the afternoon progressed, a short burst of rain interrupted a day of warm sunshine, prompting organisers to look up to the sky in dread, hoping against hope that thunderstorms would not come and wash away the sheen.
When it comes to the all-important red carpet leading up to the festival palace, they have taken no chances, making sure it will be renewed at least twice a day for the duration of the festival.
And in an eco-touch to the event, French utility giant Veolia will recycle every last bit of the carpet into... car mats.