Cannes: The Croisette & Croissants

05/19/2006 at 04:00 PM EDT

Cannes: The Croisette & Croissants
Jean Reno, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Audrey Tautou, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson
Jeff Vespa/WireImage
The Croisette and croissants are key to the Cannes Film Festival. Figure out how to negotiate the first, a beautiful seaside promenade, and where to get decent samples of the second and you are set to survive the annual madness that is France's Cannes Film Festival.

The festival kicked off Wednesday night with the world premiere of The Da Vinci Code. Despite the presence of stars Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellen on the red carpet for the opening, the film was greeted by tepid audience response and thumbs down from most critics (including this one.)

The movie is – there's no way to put this politely – dull. And long. It's nearly 2-1/2 hours, and much of that is talky exposition explaining the background to various supposed controversies in religious history. Hanks has nada to do besides figure out clues in the nick of time, and there is absolutely no chemistry between him and Tautou. (See full review here).

In addition to Da Vinci, other big Hollywood releases being showcased out of competition at Cannes include X-Men: The Last Stand, Over the Hedge and United 93.

Major stars whose films will unspool at the Grand Palais, Cannes's labyrinthine complex of theaters, this year include:

• Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with Babel
• Kirsten Dunst in Marie-Antoinette (directed by Sofia Coppola)
• Penelope Cruz in Volver (directed by her fellow Spanish countryman Pedro Almodovar)
• Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore and The Rock in Southland Tales
• Greg Kinnear and Ethan Hawke in Fast Food Nation

But back to the Croisette. It's the main drag where all the action for the 12-day festival (which culminates with an awards ceremony on Sunday, May 28 ) takes place in this sunny, beachside town. On the southern side of the Croisette, which fronts the Riviera, is the Grand Palais, a labyrinthine complex of theaters where all the movies shown in competition or under the festival's wing are screened.

On the other side of the Croisette are the chi-chi hotels where the movie companies set up temporary offices and where producers, directors and actors bunk. This is also where publicity fetes are thrown, like Friday's Dreamgirls party, during which the media will get a sneak peek at the upcoming movie musical. Stars Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Beyonce are expected to promote the film, which opens at Christmastime.

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