CANNES, France — The Cannes Film Festival unrolled its red carpet with a socially minded French drama on Wednesday as the usually glitzy festival began on a more serious note after January's terror attacks in Paris.
"Standing Tall," a film about a juvenile delinquent co-starring Catherine Deneuve, premiered as the festival got underway beneath hazy French Riviera skies. Joel and Ethan Coen, co-presidents of the Cannes jury this year, also presented their colleagues — including Jake Gyllenhaal, Guillermo del Toro and Sienna Miller — who will decide Cannes' prestigious Palme d'Or top prize.
Deneuve said the selection of "Standing Tall," directed by French actress-filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot, for opening night could be seen as "a way for the festival to respond to a difficult year in Europe and particularly in France."
France has been grappling with questions of security and identity since the deadly attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket by young men who were born and raised in France but motivated by radical Islam.
Although Bercot's film has been in the works for five years, the director said there was a link between the attacks and the movie, which depicts decent professionals — including police, court and prison staff — working to help a delinquent youth (Rod Paradot) get his life back on track.
"I believe no child is born nasty, a criminal, barbaric. And if a child becomes so, it's because that child has not been able to have the education that other children have received," Bercot said.
The three Paris attackers who were killed by police in January "were not protected, they were not educated," said Bercot. "So the film does provide an answer, in a sense. It shows what work can be done."
"Standing Tall" received a lukewarm response from critics, but even a general shrug was an improvement over last year's glitzy but immediately panned "Grace of Monaco," a Grace Kelly drama starring Nicole Kidman.
Bercot is only the second woman director to open the Cannes Film Festival, which has sometimes been chided for having a dearth of female filmmakers.
Some of the biggest directing names at this year's Cannes are on the jury. Joel Coen, whose films have frequently premiered at Cannes, said the timing was perfect for him and his brother, who are waiting until February 2016 to release their next film, "Hail, Caesar!"
But the dual presidents could mean unusual jury politics.
"We've all been split into either the Ethan group or Joel group," joked Gyllenhaal.
The Mexican filmmaker Del Toro, whose feature debut "Cronos" premiered at Cannes in 1993, said he valued the chance to celebrate other directors.
"It changed my life," said Del Toro. "I know how important it is for young filmmakers."
A splash of movie-inspired ballet was also added to the opening festivities. Benjamin Millepied choreographed an ode to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" to be performed ahead of the premiere of "Standing Tall." Millepied's wife, actress Natalie Portman, will later in the festival make her directorial debut with "A Tale of Love and Darkness," an Israeli drama.
There will be plenty of star wattage parading through Cannes over the next 12 days.
Thursday will bring George Miller's sequel "Mad Max: Fury Road" along with stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Woody Allen will premiere his latest, "Irrational Man," starring Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix. And the Pixar animation film "Inside Out" will take a bow at Cannes' Palais des Festivals.
Among the most anticipated films are "Carol," a '50s lesbian drama starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and "Macbeth," a Shakespeare adaptation with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
The first few days of the festival may be marked by art house entries that tend toward the bizarre. Matteo Garrone's "Tale of Tales," loosely adapted from 17th century fairy tales, promises the sight of Salma Hayek eating the heart of a beast. Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Lobster," with Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, is about a dystopian future where those who fail to find a mate are turned into an animal.
Cannes, already a media circus, may well turn into a zoo.
Associated Press Writer Jill Lawless contributed to this report.