Boo birds goad ‘Code’

'Da Vinci' tests Cannes faithful

CANNES — “The Da Vinci Code” had its world premiere Wednesday night as the 59th Cannes Film Festival opened amid critical and clerical carping and plenty of competition from other events on the Croisette.

After Tuesday and Wednesday screenings, the film got a critical drubbing, and when there was applause on opening night, it was merely polite. 

Hours before the premiere, British nuns and a priest protested on the steps of the Palais.

Meanwhile, exhibs are praying for big figures when the film makes its global bow Friday. Pic launched Wednesday in a few territories, including France.

The glittery preem had a lot of rivals, all right at the epicenter of opening-night action. The big Arsenal vs. Barcelona soccer match, Europe’s equivalent to the Super Bowl, was shown on a giant screen in a ballroom at the Majestic, just across the Croisette from the Palais; GreeneStreet Intl. held a party at the Majestic pool; and DDA held its annual cocktail at the Majestic Beach.

Theoretically, Sony maintained its pre-preem silence over “Da Vinci” to build anticipation (though some said off the record that it was to keep the religious protesters at bay). Before the first press screenings at Cannes, anticipation was high. But the reaction of the international press indicated the studio’s silence may have been to keep early criticism from spoiling the pic’s worldwide bow.

Audiences at the first public screening Tuesday night giggled during some sections and fidgeted at others. One Aussie journalist said he saw the film after traveling for 48 sleepless hours: “I slept through 40 minutes of it and wish I could have slept more.”

Granted, the Cannes aud is a tough crowd. As the Aussie pointed out, they’re often tired; plus, international critics and reporters often arrive on the Croisette with appetites for the latest auteur masterpiece, not a Hollywood tentpole.

Still, “Code” could have a big opening weekend based on all the curiosity.

After Wednesday’s screening, Dominique Landon, a reporter for radio station France Bleu, said she was disappointed. “I found the mise en scenes not very original, and it was too long. There was a lot that could have been cut. It was very boring.”

Marc Yvard, who works for TV station France 3, said: “No, I didn’t like it, even though I like Ron Howard’s films. The whole thing felt laborious.”

Astrid Kolbjornsen, who writes for the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende, agreed: “The weaknesses of the book are even weaker in the film.”

Meanwhile, the Indian release of “Da Vinci” has been put on hold barely two days before its skedded release. The fate of the film will depend on a decision by Information and Broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and members of the Catholic Churches of India after the special screening held for them in New Delhi on Wednesday.

(Alison James and Sharon Swart in Cannes, Liza Klaussmann in Paris and Shilpa Bharatan Iyer in Mumbai contributed to this report. )

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