CANNES, France (AP) — It's the big Cannes question — what will catch Steven Spielberg's eye?
The king of Hollywood heads the jury that will decide who wins the Palme d'Or and other prizes at the French Riviera film fest, and artistic director Thierry Fremaux can't wait to find out what takes his fancy.
"We know (Spielberg) the director, but we don't know who he will be as a spectator," Fremaux said Tuesday.
"Take the two Japanese films" in competition. Will the director of "Jaws," ''E.T." and "Saving Private Ryan" root for Takashi Miike's action-packed crime drama "Shield of Straw" or for Kore-Eda Hirokazu's intimate family story "Like Father, Like Son."
"I still don't know what he will prefer: the action film, which is more similar to his own cinema, or the auteur film that is completely different," said Fremaux, who has overseen the festival since 2001.
Spielberg did drop a hint, however. Fremaux said Spielberg told him that on the jury "I want to make a journey. I want to know how people make cinema in a different way than mine."
Spielberg and his fellow jurors — who include actors Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz and director Ang Lee — were gathering for introductory cocktails Tuesday, as a small army of workers erected signs, touched up paintwork and readied the red carpet outside the festival's main venue, the Palais des Cinemas.
The film extravaganza opens Wednesday with Baz Luhrmann's jazz-age extravaganza "The Great Gatsby," and runs to May 27.
The 20 contenders for the Palme d'Or include new movies from the Coen brothers, Roman Polanski, Alexander Payne and Asghar Farhadi.
It's notoriously difficult to predict the winner, but some things at Cannes are guaranteed. There will be sand. There will be sun — despite a forecast of rain for the opening night. And, Fremaux says, there will be sex.
Asked if there's a theme running through the selection, Fremaux suggested "love — the main theme of history."
Films with a romantic element include Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra," Abdellatif Kechiche's coming-of-age story "La Vie d'Adele" — and possibly Farhadi's post-divorce tale "The Past."
Fremaux said some of the movies push boundaries in terms of the screen depiction of sex — even though times have changed since a film called "La Grande Bouffe" scandalized Cannes in 1973 with its graphic sex and nudity.
No longer quite so shocking, "La Grande Bouffe" is being screened again this year as part of the "Cannes Classics" program.
"I think society is much more open than 40 years ago and it's more possible to talk about sexuality," Fremaux said.
"Directors have got freedom to do what they want to do. (But) that freedom goes maybe to certain limits — so we will see."
He said several films resonated with the debate raging in France — and elsewhere — about same-sex marriage.
"It's a coincidence, but it's also the directors and filmmakers and artists going inside the world, inside society," he said. "And it's also what Cannes wants to show."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless