Le Code de Da Vinci


With summer now descending on Paris, the locals, as they always do, are trickling out of the city as the stream of tourists starts to trickle in. This year, the difference is the guide book that the tourists hold in their hands and the tours they take. It looks like The Da Vinci Code (both book and film) is going to be very good for tourism in Paris.

Before the release of the film, which opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the marketing campaign in Paris was phenomenal. The walls of Concorde station, on the Metro (Line 1), became a giant billboard for the film with not a centimetre of the station’s original tiles to be seen.

I had to admit it was a perfect idea. Line 1 runs straight along the the right bank of the Seine, stopping at the most frequented tourist destinations in the city, including the Champs Elysées, Bastille, Hôtel de Ville and, lo and behold, the Louvre. What’s more, Concorde station connects with two other major tourist lines, featuring stops related to The Da Vinci Code.

To complement this, promotional ‘smart’ cars, like the one featured in the film, as well as the thousands of inevitable posters were seen around town.

Parisians have been rather blasé about the story. Generally, the response has been: ‘The Da Vinci Code? What’s that about again? Is it any good?’ It’s biggest effect on the city has been that, when it was translated into French, some street names had to be altered because Dan Brown had described cars driving the wrong way down certain one-way streets.

I am not a fan of the book and was even more horrified at the thought of it becoming a film, but I am not going to repeat what has already been said by film critcs. Suffice it to say that it made my day to hear that the film was boo-ed at Cannes, and that a lot of the boo-ing had to with the opening film of a supposedly highly prestigious festival being nothing more than a bland, formulaic Hollywood blockbuster. The local press sparked rumours that they had been refused prior screenings of the film because it was so terrible.

The French were also spiteful that Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno, two of France’s most popular actors, had seemingly ‘abandoned’ them to make such a film. And they were spiteful that this film’s brilliant marketing campaign and its extraordinary publicity would ensure that it made billions, regardless of its quality.

So the walls of Concorde station have been stripped back to their grubby white tiles, there are no more ‘smart’ cars patrolling the streets, and the press have given the film an average of ‘zero stars’ and moved on.

Despite France’s largely Catholic population, the response from the churches and religious groups has been virtually non-existent. There is the odd mention of blasphemy, but nothing at all significant. The worst the film is going to do is encourage tourists to visit Parisian churches, where they will be given religious material and where they might leave a donation in the poor-box near the door.

Travel agents are in a Da Vinci Code frenzy, selling packages and tours to places mentioned in the book or its attendant hype: Rome, London and Scotland. You name it, they’ll sell it to you. Galleries are recruiting English speakers to take special Da Vinci Code guided tours. No new map or guidebook will dare to appear without mention of Da Vinci Code ‘hot spots’. And the poor old Mona Lisa is being worn out with flash photography.

France has hit the jackpot this year, with two successful American films generating millions of tourism euros (it’s ironic that the French have a reputation for disliking the Americans, and vice versa). Sophia Coppola’s new film, Marie-Antoinette, will ensure that those tourists who are done with Paris will cram themselves in to an over-crowded Versailles afterwards.

Unlike The Da Vinci Code, Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette had been embraced by the French press well, until they started boo-ing it at Cannes too. Apparently, Coppola’s take on the story is that Marie-Antionette was a nice girl who was way too young and naïve to be Queen of France; that she never actually made ‘the cake’ comment; and that she was unneccessarily beheaded. And anyway, French people were poor at the time, and the French Revolution was partly caused by the fact that the French King gave too much money to the American Revolutionaries to spite the English.

After The Da Vinci Code, which had nothing but a huge budget, these themes may actually please the French, despite the whistles and boos at Cannes.

I’m starting to encounter tourists who even after I’ve replied ‘Yes’ to their ‘parlez-vous English?’ still continue to speak very loudly and slowly, as they politely ask for directions to Notre Dame or other such places. I assume they will become more and more frequent as the weather warms up and Paris prepares for what will surely be a fantastic increase in tourism revenue, thanks partly to the story that so many people love to hate.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.