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  Asia-Pacific
The Da Vinci Code
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
The Da Vinci Code

Few movies could have created such a noise and din as Ron Howard's "The Da Vinci Code." The Cannes Film Festival opened with this movie on May 17 2006.

I do not remember in the 15 years that I have covered the Cannes Film Festival any other inaugural movie that has attracted such attention as "The Da Vinci Code."

Based on Dan Brown's bestseller, "The Da Vinci Code," which has till date sold some 40 million copies worldwide, Howard's screen adaptation appears to have all the ingredients of the printed version. Originally three hours long, the film was edited to last two hours and thirty-two minutes.

Howard, who first came to Cannes in 1988 with "Willow" and whose "A Beautiful Mind " won him an Oscar in 2002, said recently: "I think we have achieved the page-turner feel in the movie version. It's a design thing, how it's staged and shot. I was always trying to build those moments into the shot list. It is a more cinematic film than others I have done. Less naturalistic. More designed."

American star Tom Hanks and French actress Audrey Tautou play the lead roles. Hanks is a Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, and Tautou is a French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu. They are asked to solve the curator's murder in Paris' Louvre, and the trail leads them to what is perceived as the secrets of early Christianity and of the organisation called Opus Dei. An albino monk, Silas, provides enough evil.

The book and the film touch upon a controversy: Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and the couple had a child. The bloodline survives even now.

Obviously, the Christian community was angry, and although some groups have planned hunger strikes and protests, the Opus Dei – which is a real body – has been countering "The Da Vinci Code" with propaganda about its own virtues. Hundreds of websites have been created, and print articles have been brought out to tell the world that all that Brown wrote and Howard filmed were sheer fabrication.

Brown does not disagee entirely. He has said several times that it is, all said and done, a work of fiction. Yes, some of it is undoubtedly based on facts. Some of the organisations do exist.

Indeed, Brown is said to have got even the topography of Paris and the Louvre – where most of the story occurs – wrong.

Be that as it may, "The Da Vinci Code," when it opened commercially on May 19, two days after the May 17 kickstart at Cannes, is bound to evoke an almost mad frenzy, brought on by months of publicity. The sale of Brown's novel has been hitting the skies, and Howard's celluloid creation is also
expected to run to pleasing box-office jingle.

The making of "The Da Vinci Code" itself was an exciting exercise. Several restrictions were imposed when it was being shot inside the Louvre. The cameras could roll only after eleven at night so as not to distrurb visitors to the museum. No heavy equipment was allowed inside the galleries. The Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, Mona Lisa, could not be photographed. So, duplicates were made. Other art pieces could not be directly lit.

Eventually, such subdued lighting created the eerie atmosphere of the story, and even as Hanks and Tautou emerged from the shadows of the Louvre's galleries to see the shocking murder of the museum's curator by an Opus Dei monk, "The Da Vinci Code" seemed to have hit a cinematic high.

The climb itself was no less thrilling with a legal wrangle involving Brown, who was accused of plagiarism. He was given a clean chit by a London court.

But there was a time when Howard must have wondered if his work could be released at all.



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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