Tom Cruise will appear at Cannes for the first time in 30 years

Paris (AFP) - From Maverick to Bowie to Elvis, the Cannes Film Festival launches its 75th-anniversary edition on Tuesday with a roster full of icons from the last century.

The world’s foremost film festival always tries to strike a balance between serious arthouse fare and popcorn-guzzling entertainment.

It has scored some big crowd-pleasers for its diamond jubilee, with Tom Cruise coming to the French Riviera for the European launch of “Top Gun: Maverick”, the sequel to his era-defining mega-hit from 1986.

Music legends will feature prominently, with flamboyant Australian director Baz Luhrmann screening his biopic “Elvis” along with new documentaries about David Bowie (“Moonage Daydream”) and rock’n’roller Jerry Lee Lewis (“Trouble in Mind” by one-half of the Coen brothers, Ethan Coen).

While those are all playing outside the main competition, there are also iconic names in the race for the top prize Palme d’Or, not least Canadian horror maestro David Cronenberg.

Kristen Stewart and Lea Seydoux, who star in 'Crimes of the Future', were both on the Cannes jury in 2018

The 79-year-old returns to his body-horror (dis)comfort zone with “Crimes of the Future”, in which Kristen Stewart, Lea Seydoux and Viggo Mortensen turn gruesome surgical alterations into a sexualised performance art.

- Five films from women -

Meanwhile, US filmmaker James Gray gets nostalgic for his New York adolescence in “Armageddon Time”, starring Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins.

And one of France’s most feted directors, Claire Denis, is back with “The Stars at Noon”, a thriller set in Central America featuring Robert Pattinson.

Following some last-minute additions, a total of 21 films are competing for the Palme d’Or, including several from previous winners: the Dardenne brothers from Belgium, Sweden’s Ruben Ostlund, Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda and Romania’s Cristian Mungiu.

Robert Pattinson has made his second film with Claire Denis, following 2018's 'High Life'

Only five are directed by women – though that still makes it a record year for female representation at Cannes – among them US indie darling Kelly Reichardt who is presenting “Showing Up” with Michelle Williams.

Julia Ducournau became only the second woman to win the Palme last year for her wild and gory “Titane”.

One of its stars, French actor Vincent Lindon, heads the jury this year with a team that includes Iran’s two-time Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, Indian actress Deepika Padukone and British actress-director Rebecca Hall.

- ‘Sadness, shame, pain’ -

The war in Ukraine will be an inevitable talking point.

Its beleaguered filmmakers will get a special day at the industry marketplace that runs alongside the festival and Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa will present a timely film out of competition, “The Natural History of Destruction”, about the bombing of German cities in World War II.

The main competition also includes Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov, who was unable to attend for his two previous nominations due to a politically-charged conviction for embezzlement back home.

Kirill Serebrennikov was unable to attend for his previously nominated films, 'Leto' and 'Petrov's Flu', but is now living in exile

Now in exile, the director recently told AFP of the “horror, sadness, shame, pain” he felt about the invasion of Ukraine, which he said was an act of “self-killing” by the Russian government.

Elsewhere, the festival will celebrate the return of “Mad Max” creator George Miller, who returns with “Three Thousand Years of Longing”, a different beast for the Australian director, featuring Idris Elba as a djinn.

And actor-director Ethan Hawke will add to the nostalgic feel of the fortnight with his new series, “The Last Movie Stars”, about 1960s Hollywood golden couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

This year’s honorary Palme d’Or will be presented to US actor Forest Whitaker, best known for his Oscar-winning turn in “The Last King of Scotland”.