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Ron Howard & Da Vinci

It goes without saying that Ron Howard’s currently-in-production “The Da Vinci Code” will be one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, both here in France and stateside.  To think that most Parisians knew that an American, no, a Hollywood production was filming this summer in their sacred Louvre!  It leaves you wondering how the French-American ‘exchange’ is doing at this juncture.

In my experience as an American in Paris (all clichés aside), Hollywood has come to represent the part of American pop-culture (which these days means culture) that most closely resembles a bubble, wholly concerned with itself and the ability to churn out dollars and not at all observant of the outside.  Although some of the French-American counter-sentiment now lies dormant as a recent memory, I still regularly hear the Hollywood ‘machine’ employed as a reason for French discontent, outside of the more obvious and grave reasons having to do with American international politics and Iraq.  “I won‘t go to see it.” says a Louvre employee.  “I never see movie adaptations after having read the book.”  When asked if the fact that the novel was getting the Hollywood treatment had anything to do with it, the young lady said she wouldn’t see a French adaptation either, but the fact that it was American made it easier to “critique.”  Her friend piped in that “We here in France love to criticize America.”  Well then, all the more reason to see our films!  Not to worry; this entire exchange was conducted in pleasantries and jest.

The fear of Hollywood here is plainly evident in French law, which requires at least 60% of French television programming to be original work produced in a Francophone country.  The French film industry is also aided, cushioned in fact, by large government subsidies and taxes.  This is a good thing, especially when one walks the streets of Paris and is constantly challenged with the blitz-like American advertising campaigns of films like The Fantastic Four and Monster in Law.  It of course does not mean that the French don’t love our movies, since the reason these laws exist is surely to preserve interest in France’s own long-standing tradition of filmmaking, a weak flame against the vastness of what Hollywood forks over without cease all year.

The fact remains that there is a hesitation here when you tell someone you’re going to see a film like, say, Star Wars 3.  At home this wouldn’t be a problem, of course, you might even be expected to see it.  But here it is far from being that clear, and you risk the possibility of being looked down upon or shunned by a select few. 

And we need not explore the other side of the coin, which exposes general American disinterest/aversion toward anything French.  I would only hope that ridiculous, Bush-driven preoccupation is an embarrassment of the past.  Nonetheless that is why it is extremely interesting that “The Da Vinci Code”, a blisteringly American story, is being filmed and takes place almost entirely in the French capitol.  

Why is “The Da Vinci Code” American?  C’mon.  A begrudgingly sexy Ivy-League professor called to action to investigate an ever-growing network of ancient mysteries in that ancient, mysterious corner of the world known as Europe?  No wonder the book has been embraced by everybody, literally — never has one novel served as an exhilarating chance for those who aren’t able to (or can‘t be bothered to) travel and study the intellectually exotic, while at the same time acting as a piñata of sorts for the intellectuals and self-taught experts to pin down falsities, mistakes, and perhaps even some self-reflexive jokes.  Dan Brown wasn’t sleeping on the job when he thought to take a topic so ivy-colored and academic, and turn it into a page-turner.  

But the curious part is that “The Da Vinci Code” is also being embraced, or rather gobbled up in light of the local news, by the people of Paris.  Not a day goes by when on the Metro I do not see a French person, brow knit, doggedly trying to ‘decode’, in their translated paperback copy, what all the fuss is about.  “Of course I read it.  We all did,” said another Louvre employee.  “As early as a year ago we started seeing people walk through the museum with their heads in the book, and we wanted to know why.”  I just wonder what they think when they read Robert Langdon’s first exchange with a French person in the novel, in which his cab driver cleverly asks his opinion on the Louvre pyramids, and Langdon immediately identifies it as a trick question citing French narcissism as a reason.

In fact, Ron Howard is in a rather influential position with his current project, especially in light of current events.  With things in Iraq getting worse, and everything just a bit more splintered in Europe after early July’s attacks in London, France is in a position to potentially tell the US “I told you so!”  Naturally, that idea is laughable on any sort of national or societal level, but a sensitivity between the two countries surely exists within the world climate as it is today.  And to an extent, through a medium such as film one can ascertain or comment on whether any ‘impoliteness’ remains in the French-American conversation.  This, of course, would depend on how several subtleties would be handled in the film, like the moment described above, if they are dealt with at all.  The fact is that once opened, this film will be everywhere, and Audrey Tautou, the reigning ingénue of French cinema, will suddenly be launched onto screens deep in the heart of Bush’s home turf.  Furthermore, she is starring opposite the American everyman himself, Tom Hanks.  That might mean nothing, in the long run; then again, it might be the perfect opportunity to bridge a gap largely not paid attention to (or wholly ignored) in recent years.

Has this strange power been recognized by the Hollywood powers that be?