By Gregory Kirschling
Updated May 19, 2006 at 08:18 PM EDT

It’s fun to be in Cannes!

I arrived on Wednesday in the sunny, hazy late morning, and the first thing I did was take a walk along the Croisette, the strip of paved boardwalk that serves as the main throughfare for the fest. To my left was the turquoise Mediterranean, one cruise ship, two dozen yachts, a handful of sailboats, and tracts of private beach parceled out to the tall, balconied hotels across the street to my right. I was impressed. If P. Diddy took over a tropical island and decorated it as if it was the world’s biggest video store, it would look like this town. Movie posters and billboards are everywhere, advertising blockbusters (X-Men: The Last Stand), movies that are still on the horizon (Rambo IV), and movies that haven’t even been made yet (My Blueberry Nights, starring Norah Jones and directed by 2046’s Wong Kar Wai, who’ll shoot it this summer). From where I got on, the Croisette stretched down a half-mile or so — past magazine kiosks, ice cream and panini stands, a merry-go-round, and lots of palm trees — to the Palais, the monstrous festival HQ where movie stars also walk the famous red carpets to their gala premieres.

The first thing I did after I got my bearings — my colleague Lisa Schwarzbaum, a 10-year Cannes vet, very kindly showed me around — was go see a press screening of The Da Vinci Code (starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, pictured), which was using the festival to launch its plan for global takeover. (From the get-go, it’s been funny walking behind jabbering natives and suddenly hear them insert the phrase “Da Veenchi Coooh-dah.”) But the big story out of Cannes so far — perhaps you’ve heard — is that the audiences here have deemed Da Vinci no good, and this was supported, as the movie’s end credits rolled, by the woman sitting next to me, the wife of a longtime Hollywood producer. “Did you like it?” she asked, in a tone of voice that made it clear she meant, “Please tell me you hated it!” She’s friends with Lost in Translation director Sofia Coppola, and earlier she was predicting that Marie Antoinette, Coppola’s much-anticipated biopic starring Kirsten Dunst and world-premiering next week, would surely win the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.

addCredit(“Audrey Tautou: Valery Heche/AFP/Getty”)

This year at Cannes — as in many years — there are only a few American films to keep an eye on. It is an international fest, after all. Aside from Da Vinci (which isn’t in competition for the Palme) and Antoinette, there’s Babel, 21 Grams director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s new film, featuring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; Fast Food Nation, an fictionalized adaptation of interlocking narratives based on Eric Schlosser’s nonfiction bestseller and directed by Before Sunset’s Richard Linklater; and Southland Tales, director Richard Kelly’s what-the-hell-is-it? follow-up to his cult breakout Donnie Darko.That’s it for the American contingent in the 20 films picked for thecompetition category, the fest’s most prestigious. Of foreign directorsin that mix, the filmmaker with the highest profile is Talk to Her director Pedro Almodóvar, whose Volver is another of his tragi-comedies stuffed with females, including Penélope Cruz as the mother of a 14-year-old daughter.

But you’ll hear about those movies later. Let’s talk Da VeenchiCoooh-dah. My second day at the fest found me in a cab, snaking 20minutes along the Mediterranean to a paradise called the Hotel du Cap,which, from the outside at least, is maybe what you’d get if youcrossed Versailles with a cocaine kingpin’s deluxe spread in SouthAmerica. I walked down through all the green and beautiful trees towardthe water, where Da Vinci screenwriter Akiva Goldsman was waiting forme in a cabana overlooking the fabulous Mediterranean. He was wearing abutton-down open at the neck, and laceless, sockless Converses. “Look,”he said, about the reaction to Da Vinci, smiling, “some people love it, somepeople don’t love it, some people are mixed on it. It’s going to be thesame exact feeling people had about the book.” At the end of the convohe told me what he was doing next: two projects thathave been in development forever. One of them is a “dark, dark comedy”called Tonight, He Comes. “It’s about a drunk, pissed-off superhero whodecides to break up this marriage because he wants the wife,” Goldsmansaid. “It’s just unbelievable.”

After that I cabbed it back to the main drag and up to the seventh-floorpenthouse of the Hotel Martinez, where I was ushered into a room totalk to Tautou about her role in Da Vinci. In a dark-yellowblouse and an avocado-green skirt with white whirls, and her hair cutmuch shorter than her ‘do in the movie, she was striking, and alsosoft-spoken. She’s French, and since some French have criticized thefestival for opening with an American blockbuster, we talked for a fewminutes about how it’s very French to criticize something that’ssupposed to be successful. At the end of our time, Audrey asked if shecould take my picture. I wondered why, thinking that I was such a badinterviewer that she was going to give the photo to someone who couldhunt me down and revoke my press pass. That wasn’t it. Apparently theAmelie star has taken a portrait of every journalist who has interviewedher over the last couple of years. So she snapped my pic. Note topublishers: I smell coffee-table book!

Today I’ll do more of the same. And I have to get my cell phonediagnosed. Yesterday my editor called my number and got a woman in Colombia. So I will check that out, in addition to otherthings. I hope to report back.