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Cannes Film Fest begins today

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Cannes (UNI): The 59th Film Festival de Cannes opens here tomorrow with its glitz intact. The Festival opens with Da Vinci Code, the film adaptation of the brilliant but controversial novel of the same name by Dan Brown. Directed by Ron Howard, it stars Tom Hanks and the French actress Audrey Tautou. Both of them are expected to be present for the film's world premiere at the Festival's grand inauguration.The movie would be screened amid a mounting campaign worldwide (including in India) by certain sections of Catholics denouncing the alleged liberties taken, both in the novel and the movie, with certain aspects of the life of Christ. Journalists at a preview screening late today had harsh words for Hollywood's adaptation of the Dan Brown novel, which has enraged Christians for suggesting Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and had a child by her. With costs estimated at $125 million and huge pre-release publicity thanks to religious protests led by the Vatican, studio Sony Pictures is hoping for a box-office hit after two earlier big-budget movies of the summer disappointed.

But the reaction at the opening press screening in Cannes was largely negative, with loud laughter breaking out at one of the pivotal scenes. ''Nothing really works. It's not suspenseful. It's not romantic. It's certainly not fun,'' said Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald. ''It seems like you're in there forever. And you're conscious of how hard everybody's working to try to make sense of something that basically perhaps is unfilmable.''

As well as The Da Vinci Code, the festival line-up promises a feast of politics, sex and high-octane action. Other major US productions include ''X-Men: The Last Stand'' and the animated ''Over the Hedge''. Spanish veteran Pedro Almodovar is back with ''Volver'', starring Penelope Cruz, and US film maker Sofia Coppola presents ''Marie Antoinette'', with Kirsten Dunst playing the reviled young queen as France spirals towards bloody revolution. Richard Linklater's ''Fast Food Nation'' is aiming to spoil the appetites of the big fast-food chains and Italian production ''Il Caimano'' satirises outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Oliver Stone showcases 20 minutes of his upcoming 9/11 film ''World Trade Center'', French director Rachid Bouchareb examines the forgotten role of Arabs in defending France during World War Two and his countryman Bruno Dumont promises to provoke with ''Flandres'', set in an unspecified war. Britain's Ken Loach tackles the early days of the fight for independence in Ireland, and former US vice president Al Gore talks about global warming with ''An Inconvenient Truth''. Sex hits the screen with John Cameron Mitchell's ''Shortbus'', except the buzz is that this time it is real, not simulated. And ''On Ne Devrait Pas Exister'' by French porn star HPG focuses on a porn actor who wants to break into traditional cinema.

This time there is no one from India on any of the official juries at Cannes. However, in the main jury, there are some names Indian filmgoers would be familiar with. Samuel L Jackson, the African-American actor, has been a part of the "Star Wars" series (he played the role of Mace Windu). Zhang Zi Yi, the 27-year old Chinese actress was recently seen in "Memoirs of A Geisha", and earlier in the hugely popular "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", both Oscar-winning films. Helena Bonham Carter, another jury member made her debut in 1985 with Merchant Ivory's "Room With A View" and later appeared in Howard's End (1992). One Jury member whose presence in the Cannes could be of special interest to some back home is Monica Bellucci. The 41-year old Italian actress is reportedly being wooed by NRI producer, Jagmohan Mundhra to play the title role of Sonia Gandhi in his proposed biopic on the Congress president. Mundhra is also expected to be in Cannes for a private showing of his latest movie, "Provoked", based on the travails of a battered Indian housewife in Britain. It stars Aishwarya Rai and Nandita Das. Chinese film-director Wong Kar Wai is heading the 9-member Feature-film Jury at Cannes. Wong, 46, some of whose films have done the festival-circuit in India, belongs to the latest wave of Chinese directors. Da Vinci Code stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou arrived in Cannes on a train decorated with a giant Mona Lisa on Tuesday, ahead of hundreds of actors and actresses looking for publicity and pleasure in the glamorous French Riviera resort. Halle Berry, Kate Blanchett, Bruce Willis, Gerard Depardieu, Penelope Cruz, Jamie Foxx and Beyonce too will be a part of the Festival.

A delegation from India is expected in Cannes during the Festival. It is likely to comprise representatives from Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and representatives from Bollywood.

The 12-day festival has undergone a big change in its character over time. In its first three decades, it used to showcase Hollywood and Europe (particularly France), their stars and products (with a rare, occasional nod to Asian Cinema). Gradually, the Asian Cinema began to get noticed at Cannes, and now it is getting more than a look-in. As Cannes festival director, Thierry Fremaux admitted in an interview on the eve of this year's festival saying, ''from an artistic point, a great festival can no longer exist without Asian films. From the point of view of the industry, professionals come in ever greater numbers to the Festival.''. The 'little fishing village', as Cannes was known a century and half back when it was discovered by a British Lord, has since grown in name and fame. Much of it has been due to the international film festival that it hosts each year in May, at the beginning of the Riviera 'season'

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