This year's Cannes Film Festival presents an intriguing clash between enfant terribles of world cinema past and present, as old guard auteurs take on a bevy of recent Croisette favourites plus a smattering of unknown quantities and the first ever Hollywood animation in competition.

The Official Selection, as ever an annual reflection of the world's current creative film-making hotspots, is notably strong in French, Japanese and other Asian talent, but light on German, Nordic and UK names.

In presenting the line-up on Thursday in Paris, the festival's artistic director Thierry Fremaux made a point of singling out the "extraordinary Japanese presence" this year."We look forward to the contest between a Japanese master, Imamura, and two young directors, Shinji Aoyama and Hirokazu Kore-Eda," he said referring to the three Japanese directors challenging for the Palme d'Or.

While the competition section is laden with established names such as Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette Manoel Oliveira, Michael Haneke, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Joel Coen, David Lynch and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, this ultra prestige section also includes the astonishing selection of a Hollywood animation title, in DreamWorks' Shrek. It is the third cartoon to be selected for the festival, which in 1947 awarded a prize to Walt Disney's Dumbo.

Un Certain Regard, containing many films that the selectors said could easily have made the competition cut, boasts a strong presence of lesser known directors from the countries of the former Soviet Union plus American indie filmmakers such as Abel Ferrara, Todd Solondz and Hal Hartley that have graced the Croisette before.

Of the more established names in the main competition, Godard's L'Eloge De L'Amour is garnering phenomenal buzz as the director's finest and most commercial film in years. Godard's film will compete under the Swiss flag, separating his French-language work from the many other French titles challenging for the Palme d'Or.

In all, the main competition has four French titles - Cedric Kahn's Je Te Tue, Francois Dupeyron's La Chambre Des Officiers, Catherine Corsini's Rehearsal (La Repetition) and Jacques Rivette's Va Savoir. Another, Human Nature, by French-born director Michel Gondry appears as a special screening.

The festival explained the lateness of its selections by noting that programmers saw 1,798 films including shorts, which was 30% up on last year's tally of 1,387 and double the 1997 figure.

Amongst the most interesting of the relative newcomers is Je Te Tue, a story of the police hunt for a serial killer which sets out to challenge audiences sense of morality in much the same way that Man Bites Dog did a few years back. Also drawing interest is Shinji Aoyama's Desert Moon, a film widely expected to be even better than last year's Eureka, which established the director as a film-maker to be watched even if he is difficult to release.

Also generating buzz is No Man's Land, a war film about UN peace-keepers in former Yugoslavia that has light touches as the nationalities become blurred.

"There is a lot here that is not very surprising - there are plenty of Cannes regulars," commented Fine Line's Alexandra Rossi. "It is a very courageous line-up. They have given a lot of space to directors whose films are out there. It's easy to criticise Cannes as a launch pad by saying the reviews can kill a film, but it is also the place for these films to shine."

Francoise Meaux Saint Marc IN PARIS, Adam Minns and Patrick Frater IN LONDON contributed to this report