* International flair plus U.S. stalwarts mark 2013 lineup
* 19 films compete for Palme d'Or, top prize awarded May 26
* Roman Polanski and Michael Douglas likely on red carpet (Recasts throughout with detail)
By Alexandria Sage
PARIS, April 18 Hollywood heavyweights like Steven Soderbergh and the Coen brothers will vie with Roman Polanski and a cast of filmmakers from around the world for the top prize at a Cannes Film Festival next month promising to beam with star power.
Organisers of the world's most important cinema showcase unveiled a line-up laden with international films on Thursday that will light up 10 days of competition on the palm-filled French Riviera with a global crowd of auteurs and silver screen stars to keep the cameras flashing.
This year, China, Japan, Ireland and even Chad will be among those countries represented among the 19 contenders for the main Palme d'Or prize awarded on the final evening, which can significantly boost a picture's box office and awards potential.
Soderbergh, winner of the 1989 Palme d'Or for "Sex, Lies, and Videotape", has entered the fray with TV film "Behind the Candelabra", starring Michael Douglas as flamboyant pianist and singer Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover.
Also adding Hollywood firepower to the race are Ethan and Joel Coen with "Inside Llewyn Davis," a look at the New York folk music scene starring Justin Timberlake and John Goodman.
Polanski, one of the world's most respected, and controversial, directors, returns to Cannes with a French-language adaptation of the play "Venus in Fur".
He won the prize in 2002 with his semi-autobiographical World War Two drama "The Pianist" set in the Warsaw ghetto.
This time he has cast his wife Emmanuelle Seigner in an erotic comedy which revolves around an actress's sadomasochistic audition for a role in a play.
Two more American films are in the main competition, "The Immigrant" from director James Gray and Alexander Payne's "Nebraska." The main competition includes no British films.
LAND OF WELCOME
"Cannes, land of welcome," is how festival president Gilles Jacob described the event, citing efforts over the years to provide a platform and refuge for filmmakers around the world who are harassed or censored by their governments.
Chad, the only African pick, is in the main competition with "Grigris" from director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, known to Cannes audiences after winning the jury prize at the 2010 festival.
Iran director Asghar Farhadi, who became the first Iranian to win an Academy Award for the best foreign language film for "A Separation" last year, joins the Cannes line-up with "Le Passe", starring French actress Berenice Bejo.
The festival will open on May 15 with a screening outside competition of Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who will return to Cannes for the first time since 2007.
DiCaprio plays tragic hero Jay Gatsby in the 3D movie of F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary classic with Carey Mulligan playing Daisy Buchanan and Tobey Maguire as the narrator, Nick Carraway.
Hundreds of film critics and journalists filled the plush blue seats inside a Champs-Elysees cinema on Thursday underneath a huge video screen of the 2013 Cannes poster - Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward curled up kissing - to learn which films had made the cut this year.
Festival Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux said 1,858 films were submitted - some as late as Wednesday evening - and the line-up would be "full of discovery, surprises and stars" at the May 15-26 event.
"Big football teams do not deprive themselves of their great players for the big matches. Cannes is a big match and we want to have the best selection possible," Fremaux told Reuters.
The closing film on May 26, which is outside of competition, will be "Zulu" by Jerome Salle. The film-noir thriller stars Orlando Bloom and Forest Whitaker as homicide cops swept into the murky political landscape of post-apartheid South Africa.
This year's jury deciding the awards in the main competition will be led by U.S. director Steven Spielberg who has won the Academy Award for Best Director twice.
Presiding over the jury deciding the "Un Certain Regard" prize for up-and-coming directors will be Danish director Thomas Vinterberg whose film "The Hunt" was highly regarded by critics at Cannes last year.
"The Bling Ring" by U.S. director Sofia Coppola and starring Emma Watson will open this competition on May 16. (Reporting by Alexandria Sage and Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Paul Casciato)