Normally reserved for flashy hits such as "Moulin Rouge" or "The Fifth Element", the opening selection this year is "Standing Tall", starring French icon Catherine Deneuve.
Director Emmanuelle Bercot, little known outside her native France, is the first woman to open the world's most famous film festival since Diane Kurys in 1987 for her film "A Man in Love".
The pace will pick up quickly over the coming 12 days, with a number of high-octane extravaganzas, including "Mad Max: Fury Road" starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, China's "The Assassin" and Japan's "Yakuza Apocalypse".
(US actor and member of the Feature Film jury Jake Gyllenhaal arrives in Cannes. Photo: AFP)
The festival has come under fire in recent years for failing to give much representation to women, and this year's top Palme d'Or competition again features only two female directors -- the same as last year -- out of 19 selections.
They are French actresses-turned-directors Valerie Donzelli and Maiwenn, part of a particularly strong showing for France which has five films up for the Palme.
But women appear to be more central to other parts of the line-up this year.
Legendary director Agnes Varda -- who made her name during the French New Wave of the 1960s -- will become the first woman to be awarded an honorary Palme d'Or.
Oscar winner Natalie Portman is presenting a special screening of her directorial debut "A Tale of Love and Darkness" about the early years of