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Controversy continues as ‘Da Vinci’ opens

‘This is supposed to be entertainment, it’s not theology’ says Ron Howard
/ Source: staff and news service reports

The director huffed, offended believers protested and the critics carped as “The Da Vinci Code” premiered and started its march around the world Wednesday.

Ron Howard, who adapted Dan Brown’s worldwide megaselling novel to the big screen, had a suggestion Wednesday for people riled by the way Christian history is depicted in the film: If you suspect the movie will upset you, don’t go see it.

“Da Vinci” opened at the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday with a black-tie premiere that brought stars Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany onto Cannes’ famous red carpet.

Beforehand, Howard answered questions about “Da Vinci” protests around the world — and also in Cannes, where a Roman Catholic nun wearing a brown habit kneeled and said a rosary at the foot of the red carpet.

“There’s no question that the film is likely to be upsetting to some people,” Howard told reporters. “My advice, since virtually no one has really seen the movie yet, is to not go see the movie if you think you’re going to be upset. Wait. Talk to somebody who has seen it. Discuss it. And then arrive at an opinion about the movie itself.”

“Again: This is supposed to be entertainment, it’s not theology,” he said.

The screen adaptation, like the novel, suggests that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a child. One reporter asked the cast if they believed Christ was married.

Star Tom Hanks quipped, “Well, I wasn’t around.”

Hanks said he had not felt pressure from religious groups. He added that his religious heritage “communicates that our sins have been taken away, not our brains.”

Boycotts planned around the globeChristian groups from various countries, including South Korea, Thailand and India have protested the movie, planning boycotts, a hunger strike and attempts to block or shorten screenings. In India, the government decided on Thursday to allow the screening of the controversial film “The Da Vinci Code” but with a disclaimer saying it was a work of fiction, the information minister said.

Lobbyists in Thailand persuaded local censors to cut the final 10 minutes out of the film, but the censors later reversed their position after Columbia Pictures appealed.

Australian Christians bought cinema advertisements challenging the movie’s plot. Hong Kong’s Catholic church has organized forums to “clarify the facts.”

In Cannes, the British nun who took her protest to the red carpet, Sister Mary Michael, prayed before a wooden cross.

“I think this movie will confuse people,” she explained. “The world is a mess, and Jesus has the answers.”

Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic movement depicted as a murderous cult in “The Da Vinci Code,” invited media to one of its vocational schools in a working-class section of Rome to show off its work training young people to be mechanics, electricians and chefs.

“Soon this regrettable but fleeting episode will be forgotten,” said Opus Dei spokesman Manuel Sanchez Hurtado. “Let us hope that its lessons about mutual respect and understanding are not.”

“The Da Vinci Code” was kept under wraps until the first press screenings here Tuesday, which brought a few whistles from critics and lukewarm reviews. Associated Press critic Christy Lemire found the movie “cursory and rushed.”

Dominating Cannes talkA few hours before it premiered in Cannes, an audience in Beijing became the first public viewers of the film. China has seen little of the controversy that “The Da Vinci Code” has elicited elsewhere. Debates have been limited and Catholics are a small minority, though some are upset about the movie.

While it opened the Cannes festival, “Da Vinci” is not competing for prizes. It is the biggest opening film the festival has had in years. The Hitchcock-style French thriller “Lemming” left little impression last year. Some of the more memorable were “Basic Instinct” in 1992, and “Moulin Rouge” in 2001.

Besides the “Da Vinci” contingent, other stars who attended Wednesday included Aishwarya Rai, Juliette Binoche and Sidney Poitier, who got a standing ovation when he declared the festival officially open.

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai (“2046”), whose next film will star sultry crooner Norah Jones, heads the festival jury, which includes actors Samuel L. Jackson, Ziyi Zhang, Monica Bellucci, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter.

Together, they will designate awards for the May 28 closing ceremony, choosing between 20 films by directors including Spain’s Pedro Almodovar (“Volver”), Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”), Italy’s Nanni Moretti (“Il Caimano”), and Sofia Coppola (“Marie Antoinette”) and Richard Linklater (“Fast Food Nation”) of the United States.

Wong, wearing his trademark dark sunglasses, promised that the jury would grant equal consideration to veterans and newcomers alike. The main requirement: “We’re looking for fresh air for cinema.”