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19.5.06

That Sound Is Leonardo Rolling over in His Grave

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I am laughing a lot reading the generally negative reviews panning the movie version of The Da Vinci Code. I have written here before about how I thought it was a poorly written book. Let me just say that A. O. Scott nailed it in his review of the movie when he called Dan Brown's book the "best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence." Ann Hornaday's equally entertaining review in the Washington Post begins: "The movie Sony Pictures has been desperately trying to position as 'the most controversial thriller of the year' turns out to be about as thrilling as watching your parents do a Sudoku puzzle."

The audience reaction at the film's official screening at the Cannes Film Festival Thursday night was sparse applause and mostly annoyed silence, according to an article by Jean-Luc Wachthausen (Sidney Poitier décoré, Tom Hanks dépité, May 19) in Le Figaro. This was something not remembered by anyone in the festival's history, in terms of how the main film screening was received there. The reactions at the press screening on Tuesday night (Scepticisme du côté des premiers spectateurs du «Da Vinci Code», May 17) according to Le Figaro. During the credits, there was "un silence glacial" and even some booing, again unheard of at Cannes, where there is usually at least polite applause. Worse, when Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) told Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) in the film that she was "the last living descendant of Jesus Christ," the audience burst into laughter. I am not even going to put this movie in my Netflix queue.

1 comment:

jfl said...

Nigel Andrews, from Cannes (for the FT):
[two out of five stars]

"We already know who did it..."

The film-viewing world is divided into two halves and The Da Vinci Code should frighten them both. For those who have read Dan Brown's book, this white-knuckle ride through the story's essentials leaves out (I would guess) absolutely everything that smacks of a pause, a reflection, a tea break or a theological musing. For those like me determined to go to heaven by not reading it - at great cost to our cocktail party lives - Ron Howard's big-screen patience-buster is like being pinned against a wall by someone wanting to tell you the plot, the whole plot and nothing but the plot.

The book cannot be as cuckoo as this cheerfully appalling film, I kept thinking. (Send contradictions to my email address.) Tom Hanks dashes around France and London as a religious symbology expert helping the Frnech police discover who killed a Louvre Museum curator one dark night in the Mona Lisa room. We know who it was from scene one. It was albino monk Paul Bettany, a Catholic hitperson and career sosciopath who regroups between murders by treaing off his clothes and flagellating himself.

His paymasters appear to be the Vatican or Opus Dei or a tandem of both. But Professor Hanks, aided by the curator's supposed granddaughter Audrey (Amelie) Tautou, a police cryptologist, will surely expose the crim's true core once he enlists the help of Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen), a chateau-dwelling millionaire palaeo-ecclesiastical antiquarian. (Whatever do these people put on their passports?)

The film goes on like this for 150 minutes, or for ever, whichever seems more bearable to contemplate. The whole world knows by now what the story involves: a smear on traditional Christianity to the effect that Jesus Christ married and sired a bloodline. Outraged believers have been sending up white smoke from their brains ever since Brown's book was published. They have had to unpack all the indignation last stored away after The Last Temptation of Christ, novel and film, which also suggested Our Lord might have had a sex life.

Christly celibacy is a notion so important to everyone that Dan Brown must have known that the Son of God is second only to Hitler (who bats for the other side) as a gift to bestsellerdom. So the novelist and former pop song writer designed a maze of riddles to prove that most frightening truth of all: that people with nothing better to do will knock themselves out searching for a reason to be apoplectic about something.

To give it to you simply - look away now if you want - the book's gist is that "Holy Grail" equals "Sangraal" equals "Royal Blood": ergo, bloodline. And the girlish disciple to Christ's right in Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" is Mary Magdalene, although a million experts have yelped to the author that he/she is not and they can prove it.

Non of us watching the film can yelp. Our responses are paralysed by perpetual motion. We clatter between churches and cathedrals, art galleries and gothic graveyards, like a group of tourists told their boat is leaving at sunset. There are incessant chases by car or foot, most of which confirm that 10,000 years of thought and history weigh nothing next to the truism that villains never catch up with heroes when it comes to the crunch.

When in doubt characters draw guns (including the albino monk). No one, however empurpled, is above punching an opponent in the mouth. And what I assume was leisurely exposition in the novel - the main character's back stories, the history of Christianity, the rise and fall of the Knights Templar - turns into eyeblink flashbacks filmed in the fizzing style of the body-entry pathology bits in TV's CSI. Instead of "look, it's a bullet-riddled liver", we get "look, it's 100 years of papal-Rosicrucian face-off".

Most performers become cinematic roadkill, not least poor Mlle. Tautou, French-accenting such lines as "I've nevairr seen much good from looking into the past." (Now she tells us.) Tom Hanks is the best that Hollywood can field as the thinking symbologist's Indiana Jones. But no sooner are we used to him acting Tautou off the screen than Sir Ian enters to act him off the screen. The Da Vinci Code is a McKellen film as surely as David Copperfield is a Micawber novel. Nothing else matters when he is around. His contribution is so witty and imaginative - twirling lines like pipe-cleaner animals, surfing octaves, turning banalities into bon mots - that the former stage actor thespian must be recaptured for Shakespeare and the live theatre as fast as possible, if necessary by violence and abduction. I shall be auditioning albine monks for this task, starting from tomorrow.

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