Mona Lisa frowns

For the French, it's bound to be the most annoying American phenomenon since the freedom fries fiasco. Tom Hanks reportedly beat out Harrison Ford, George Clooney, and Hugh Jackman to star in the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, to be directed by Ron Howard. Barring complications, the film should be in theatres in early 2006.

And why might this annoy the French, you ask?

Because many who read the book take author Dan Brown's tongue-in-cheek claims to historical accuracy just a little too seriously. According to a story in the London Telegraph, the ancient, tiny village of Rennes-le-Chateau in southeastern France has been inundated with pilgrims who think that the book was more than a story -- and they often refuse to take no for an answer.

Until recently, the local mayor, Jean-Franois L'Huilier, "seemed to be winning the battle against fortune-seekers who tried to disinter bodies and dynamite holes in the walls of its 11th-century church looking for relics." But then The Da Vinci Code hit the bestseller lists.

Now the local graveyard has had to be closed down and the body of a long-dead priest whose name appears in the novel has been exhumed and reburied under a "3.5 ton sarcophagus surrounded by five cubic metres of concrete." The mayor explained, with what I'm guessing was a lot of exasperation, "It'll take one hell of a lot of explosive to get through that."

Nor is L'Huilier being overly paranoid. He calls the would-be Code breakers "a Philistine minority but they come here and stomp all over the place with no respect for anything or anyone." To wit, just last year, some seekers attempted to tunnel into the church.

"It was like something out of a prison escape film. They began digging in the night, put the soil in bags and put the bags in the hole which they covered with a layer of earth so nobody would see during the day. It was only when someone noticed the flower beds moving that we discovered what they were up to," Huilier explained.

This isn't the first time that the village has had to fend off vandals and treasure seekers. Local lore and some conspiratorial pamphlets in the past have fueled speculation that that there is a treasure hoard, the holy grail, the remains of Mary Magdalene, or even the bones of Christ, buried there somewhere. Here's hoping that the villagers are up to dealing with the deluge of invaders when Brown's story comes to the big screen.

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