CANNES, France (AFP) - Cannes began rolling out the red carpet on Tuesday as stars including Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively swept into town for the world's top film festival whose dazzle is being tested by stiff security measures.
On foot, horseback and motorbikes, police patrolled the Croisette, a strip of beach lined with ultra-luxury stores and headed by the Palais des Festivals, the main venue for the cinema extravaganza which gets under way on Wednesday night.
A small army of workers carefully unrolled strips of the 60m red carpet that will host stars such as Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Sean Penn, Robert De Niro, Kirsten Dunst, Charlize Theron and George Clooney over the 12-day festival.
The first of the big Hollywood films, Foster's drama about a Wall Street tipster, Money Monster, starring Clooney and Roberts screens on Thursday. And Steven Spielberg will roll out his blockbuster version of Roald Dahl's The BFG at the weekend, although neither are competing for the main Palme d'Or prize.
But already some of the main competition films are stirring controversy, with Juliette Binoche starring in a period horror Slack Bay about Victorian tourists eaten by the locals in northern France.
Another, The Neon Demon, also features cannibalism, this time among supermodels in Los Angeles according to the film's Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who is notorious for depicting extreme violence.
The population of Cannes is set to nearly triple to some 200,000 people as film producers, industry workers and actors roll in to soak up the glamour, sell films, network and party.
The festival has also created a security headache worthy of a movie script for French authorities six months after a series of attacks left 130 people dead in Paris.
"We must keep in mind as we prepare to open this festival, that we are... faced with an enemy determined to strike us at any moment," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on a visit to Cannes on Monday.
As a result an "extraordinary mobilisation" of security forces has been put in place, with 400 private security agents guarding the Palais des Festivals alone, where the main films are shown.
Cazeneuve said bomb experts would carry out daily sweeps of the venue.
Hundreds more police officers and specialist units will be on duty in the city, whose lure for the rich and famous makes it equally attractive to jewellery thieves - with several multi-million dollar heists in recent years.
Cannes has 500 CCTV cameras, making it the most closely monitored town in France, said mayor David Lisnard.
He dismissed concerns that the tight security will throw a wet blanket over the parties, glitter and glamour of the event.
"Do you think an attack brings merriment? We have succeeded in preserving the festival atmosphere. The public will be at the foot of the (red-carpeted) steps. All the parties will be authorised but security must be taken care of," he told AFP.
Last month elite police forces staged a simulated terror attack at the Palais des Festivals.
Air and sea exclusion zones have also been declared, as well as a ban on drones, and Lisnard has said random searches will be conducted in the streets of Cannes.
Hollywood stars Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart were snapped arriving in town, according to Vogue magazine's Twitter feed.
The pair star in Woody Allen's Cafe Society, which will open the event on Wednesday on what is forecast to be a rain-drenched evening.
The movie, about a young couple who fall in love in 1930s Hollywood, is being screened out of competition.
Nearly 90 feature films will be shown in this year's official selection, 21 of which are in the running for the Palme d'Or.
But hundreds more are showing in the film market and in the Director's Fortnight and Critics' Week sections.
With the clock ticking down, hectic last-minute preparations were still going on, with cranes lining the Croisette.
In Cannes port, crew members scrubbed the sleek yachts where many of the festival's parties take place.
Several billionaires have parked their superyachts along the Riviera for the festival: Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Octopus was in Nice and Spielberg's Seven Seas in Antibes, according to Forbes.com.