The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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What you haven’t seen in India yet: The Code from Cannes

Having seen The Da Vinci Code last night in Cannes at its first public screening anywhere in the world, I can say that Indian Catholics are quite wrong in seeking to have this movie banned. Strictly between us, if they can crack my code, the secret can be revealed ' this is not a film to die for.

Certainly, it was a great occasion, being in the privileged position of being at the screening. There were more than 1,000 journalists from all over the world in the Salle Debussy and the Cannes authorities could have filled the place many times over.

We waited for 90 minutes before we were allowed in, which added even more to the sense of theatrical drama.

What I remember is that some years ago, when Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas had its first screening in Cannes, some in the audience clapped at the end. This time no one cheered.

Even as the final credits were rolling, journalists were starting to walk out. The producers, one felt, could, at least, have infiltrated some paid cheerleaders into the audience to encourage a feel good, “must see this movie again” atmosphere.

They failed. I am sorry to have to say this but somehow, at the end of it all, this film doesn’t quite work. At least, it didn’t for me.

I would be happy to see it again and probably will, at least a couple of times again, so I can, at least, be fair in drawing attention to the bits that work.

The central problem is that the book, so easy to read and a marvellous thriller at its heart, hasn’t quite translated to the big screen. This is a dark movie (not family viewing, really), with some wonderful sequences and a musical score as good as I have heard for a long time and of a high quality from the time the film begins.

But viewers in India, even if they have read the book, will find the narrative sequence hard to follow. This is because there really isn’t one.

The movie, in common with Dan Brown’s novel, begins with the murder in the Louvre museum in Paris ' “Renowned curator Jaques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio.”

There is plenty of violence in Ron Howard’s treatment of the film but less real horror. The drawback in his treatment is that the story ' and it’s a complicated one ' is hard to follow. While the book is ' let’s be honest about this ' unputdownable, the film constitutes a number of sequences, some excellent, stitched together.

Occasionally, there are flashbacks and even history lessons, to explain the context and help comprehension but many viewers, especially in India, unfamiliar with the search for the Holy Grail, the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar, will flounder.

Although Tom Hanks is excellent as American professor Robert Langdon, trying to decipher a murder in which he himself becomes the quarry, and French actress Audrey Tautou is easy on the eye, Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay has not quite captured the speed and magic of the book.

Since Dan Brown is credited as an executive producer, perhaps he should share the blame for an imperfect script.

Those of us lucky enough to see The Da Vinci Code last night were of the opinion that Sir Ian McKellen, as Sir Leigh Teabing, the English aristocrat who wants to steal the Holy Grail for his own purposes, lit up the screen. His part requires him to say at one point: “You can’t trust the French.”

Will the film offend devout Catholics' Of course, it will but, significantly, in the crucial scene, when Langdon tells the film’s heroine, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), that she is a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, there were a few hoots of derision. For a director, nothing could be more cutting. Some others merely laughed.

There seems no reason why The Da Vinci Code should not be released in India (though the I&B ministry is vetting the film).

It merits six out of 10 if one is being generous. In a year’s time, we will all be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Those Christians who believe will not have their faith shaken by the gospel according to St Hollywood. The greatest story ever told has not translated to the greatest movie ever made.

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