May 17, 2006 at 02:00 PM EDT

Slather yourself in sunblock and practice your French. It’s time for the 59th annual Cannes Film Festival. The glitziest stop on the festival circuit, Cannes (pronounced “can”) is a time for the world’s top directors to show their stuff, for a flurry of behind-the-scenes dealmaking for thousands of projects you will never see, for starlets hungry for exposure in every sense of the word, and for Hollywood to stroll in like it owns the place. This year’s edition of Cannes begins tonight with a premiere  of The Da Vinci Code, one of several Hollywood blockbuster hopefuls screening out of competition. (Others include X-Men: The Last Stand and Over the Hedge.) This year’s jury includes such Hollywood-friendly actors as Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, and Samuel L. Jackson (so any movie with snakes in it ought to fare well).

American films in competition this year are: Sofia Coppola’s biopic Marie Antoinette (starring her Virgin Suicides star Kirsten Dunst); Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (his long-awaited follow-up to Donnie Darko, with Sarah Michelle Gellar); and Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation (a narrative based on the nonfiction exposé). Other U.S. art fare making the scene: Linklater’s sci-fi tale A Scanner Darkly, Kevin Smith’s Clerks II, Al Gore’s global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and Shortbus, by Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell, which features its cast showing off their angry inches and engaging in real, unsimulated sex acts.

Foreign films launching at Cannes that will likely find their way to American theaters by the end of the year include Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (with Penélope Cruz), Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel (starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Gael García Bernal), and Ken Loach’s Irish historical drama The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

(Keep an eye on PopWatch and EW.com’s home-page galleries for more Cannes coverage from Lisa Schwarzbaum and Greg Kirschling throughout the festival’s 12 days.)

addCredit(“Streets of Cannes: John Sciulli/WireImage.com”)

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