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If you fear Da Vinci Code, don't see it: Howard

Director Ron Howard has a suggestion for people riled by his film: you suspect the movie will upset you, don't go see it.

india Updated: May 18, 2006 11:50 IST

Director Ron Howard has a suggestion for people riled by the way Christian history is depicted in The Da Vinci Code: If you suspect the movie will upset you, don't go see it.

Howard's adaptation of the blockbuster novel opened at the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday with a black-tie premiere that brought Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany onto Cannes' famous red carpet. Other stars who attended: Aishwarya Rai, Juliette Binoche and Sidney Poitier, who got a standing ovation when he declared the festival officially open.

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 Dan Brown's 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."

Christian groups as far away as 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 even delayed the premiere because of complaints.

In Cannes, a British nun, Sister Mary Michael, prayed before a wooden cross at the base of Cannes' red carpet before the premiere. "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." Da Vinci Code,  kept under wraps until the first press screenings on Tuesday, which brought a few whistles from critics and lukewarm reviews is not competing for prizes at Cannes. 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.

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai (2046), whose next film will star sultry crooner Norah Jones, heads the 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."