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'Da Vinci': Glittering Opening Night

'The Da Vinci Code' | McCartney's Divorce

'Da Vinci': Glittering Opening Night

At the glittering opening night of the 59th Cannes Film Festival, the biggest laugh of the night was not in the featured film, "The Da Vinci Code," intentionally or otherwise.

It was right before the movie started, when star Tom Hanks waved to the crowd behind him to come on and join him at the premiere.

In the overflow DeBussy theater — where many Hollywood players like Variety editor Peter Bart and film producer/former Columbia Pictures chief Peter Guber — were snubbed by French officials, the crowd roared, maybe seeing that this would be the only act of inclusion all night despite the festival’s reliance on Hollywood for commerce and glitter.

Among the guests: the famed Sidney Poitier, who looked a little fragile as he opened the festivities. He was walked up the red carpet by French and American film star Juliette Binoche, who held his elbow and guided him past the phalanx of black-tie adorned paparazzi and into the Palais des Congres — or, as we say in English, convention center.

And there was, of course, Sir Howard Stringer — head of Sony Entertainment — who’d traveled from Paris the day before on a seven-hour promotional train ride to Cannes accompanied his wife. It was her reading of "The Da Vinci Code" in a book club that got this whole $200 million project rolling.

And who was the elderly looking, slightly hunched-over man with a long white beard and flowing black robe who preceded Poitier and Binoche?

He was not just someone who’d come in traditional formal wear. It was Archbishop Varnava of Cannes, who walked the red carpet like all the other celebrities.

The bishop of an exiled Russian Orthodox community came to give his blessing to “The Da Vinci Code,” and pronounced it safe for consumption.

Audience members were surprised that Varnava was so accessible, and ready to tell anyone who asked that he approved of Ron Howard’s film.

At least Varnava was granting an audience last night. When I asked “The Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown, whose rather clunky book has been put on the screen by Howard, a simple question about the fate of one of his characters, he replied: “You know I don’t do interviews.”

Hey, Dan, I didn’t know that. Pulitzer Prize-winners give interviews. John Updike, E.L. Doctorow, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth all answer questions. But OK, anyway, I wondered: What happens to his heroine after the book ends? Will she ever get a date now that she has such heavy lineage to explain?

“You’ll have to read the sequel,” snapped bestsellerdom’s answer to J.D. Salinger, and then he hoofed it into a special car after exiting the film’s premiere party set up in a gigantic pyramid overlooking all of Cannes.

Maybe this is why Brown wasn’t at the press conference for the film yesterday, or why he didn’t seem to mix much with Howard and the cast (he didn’t even get to stay with everyone else at the spectacular Hotel du Cap, in Antibes).

“The Da Vinci Code,” you see, is no longer a Brown invention; it’s been re-invented so that now at least it makes a little sense.

The big premiere began with a long walk up the red carpet past the best-dressed, well-behaved paparazzi in the world. They were all outfitted in tuxedos. Few of them screamed or otherwise comported themselves in the usual crazy way.

When the film festival jury — including Samuel L. Jackson, Monica Bellucci and Tim Roth — made their way into the Palais des Congres — the shutterbugs were absolutely semi-benign.

Inside the Palais, there was a ceremony for the opening of the festival that I can’t tell you too much about because most of the media — including Variety editor Bart, who didn’t look too happy, as well as the woman in whose French chalet some of the film was shot, and yours truly — was sent to an overflow theater where we watched the proceedings on our movie screen.

You have to love the French: Cannes is nothing without the Americans, whom they disdain so blatantly. Sacre bleu!

After the two screenings, the cast made its way to the pyramid-by-the-sea, which was inspired, ironically, by I.M. Pei's much loathed-by-the French modern entrance to the Louvre.

The actual glass structure figures prominently in the movie, which probably galls the French even more, considering how much they hate it.

There — after extricating themselves from a boring official dinner with festival officials — the cast arrived, including Howard, Hanks and wife Rita Wilson, Sir Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou.

The latter, by the way, lucky to be known in America at all for her whimsical movie “Amelie,” sports a nasty bodyguard to keep people away. Unfortunately, few approach anyway, but it was one of the most amusing sights of the night.

Tautou could take a few lessons from Hanks and Howard, who were happy to talk (hello, Dan Brown!) and relieved to be out of the funereal, disorganized dinner at the Palais.

Hanks is still sporting his long flowing hair from the movie, seen also at this year’s Oscars.

Despite getting mixed reviews so far as “symbologist” Robert Langdon, he was in a good mood and happy about the film’s premiere.

Aside from a rough cut early on, last night was his first viewing of the finished film. He was mostly surprised that he got so many softball questions during the press conference earlier in the day. He fielded questions about whether he liked Iceland, for example.

“What was that all about?” he asked, a little bemused.

Overall, though, Hanks is happy with “Da Vinci,” even though he knows it’s not going to add a third Oscar to his collection.

“I was surprised by how well it worked on so many fronts, as a thriller, and as a serious film,” he said. “It actually improved as a thriller and a story about [Tautou’s character] since I saw it that first time.”

Howard, looking not gaunt but much thinner than usual and very tired, told me the biggest obstacle to making the film wasn’t the Catholic protest but the time in which it had to be done.

“We always had this release date,” he said, “so we worked backward from it. It didn’t give us a lot of time in post-production.”

Special effects — there are several important ones — weren’t added until the very end.

When I talked to Howard, he was flanked on a couch by two of his supporting actors, McKellen and Reno, who were busy thanking and complimenting him.

McKellen especially is very pleased — no matter what happens, he’s on his way to another Academy Award nomination.

And who was his favorite character? “The Monk!” he cried, referring to Paul Bettany’s mostly undressed albino. “I wanted The Monk!”

McCartney's Divorce: Sadly Expected

Yes, everyone is talking about Paul McCartney’s announced separation from Heather Mills after four years, one baby and a possible financial disaster.

This could not have been a happy decision for McCartney, who married too soon after losing his beloved wife Linda McCartney. But he didn’t want to be alone, said friends, after 29 years with the same woman.

Mills is much-loathed by McCartney fans and, no doubt, his family. I’ve met her a few times and she’s never been anything less than friendly.

At last July’s Live 8 Concert in London, she trooped around backstage with a video camera, trying to make a documentary or at least keep herself busy for the 12 hours between McCartney’s opening and closing of the show.

You see, she simply had no interest in Paul’s business: music. When I met her in 2001, I asked Heather what her favorite Beatles song was. She replied that she had none because she knew none of them.

"I only know them now from him playing them to me on the guitar," she told me.

She said then that she didn’t listen to the Beatles' records and didn't know the albums. Her favorite song? "Here, There, and Everywhere." Did she know "For No One," I asked? She didn't. She'd never heard either "Rubber Soul" or "Revolver," she said. "Oh, 'Blackbird' is very good," she said.

Of course, you have to remember that Heather was born the same year "The White Album" was released — 1968 — and "Hey Jude" was No. 1 for seven weeks.

I don’t think there was any way for the situation to improve. It takes a certain amount of obeisance to be with the most successful pop star and songwriter in the world.

Linda McCartney knew that; she never spent a day away from Paul. At this year’s Grammys — where McCartney had his first album nomination since 1975 — Heather was nowhere to be found. And that should have been the indication right off that trouble was afoot.