Wednesday's screening of director Ron Howard's adaptation of the bestselling novel begins 12 days of proceedings on the French Riviera, culminating, in the award of the coveted Palme d'Or.

The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, is one of the most hyped Hollywood releases in recent times and cost $125 million to make.

Its plot, which centers on the cover-up of a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, has outraged Catholic groups around the world.

Protests have been particularly strong in Asia, where some countries have given the film an adult rating and others have been pressed to ban the film entirely.

However, after an advance press screening in Cannes on Tuesday, the film received a cool reception from the Cannes critics.

"'Da Vinci' never rises to the level of a guilty pleasure. Too much guilt. Not enough pleasure," Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter said.

Shortlist

The Da Vinci Code is causing a
stir, but not in competition

He called Tom Hanks's performance as symbologist Robert Langdon "remote, even wooden", and said the long passages of religious and historical debate were cumbersome.

Despite this criticism, the huge success of the original novel and is expected to ensure the film does well at the box office.

The Da Vinci Code is being shown out of competition at Cannes but there is plenty of quality in the shortlist for the main competition and the coveted Palme d'Or.

Among the entrants is Volver, directed by celebrated Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar and starring Penelope Cruz.

"'Da Vinci' never rises to the level of a guilty pleasure. Too much guilt. Not enough pleasure"

Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

Thrity-year old Richard Kelly and the maker of the cult success, Donnie Darko, is the youngest director ever to be shortlisted for his latest offering, Southland Tales.

Other entrants for the Palme d'Or are the latest films from  Ken Loach and Sofia Coppola as well as Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation.

Chinese hitch

A Chinese film set around the Tiananmen Sqauare protests had been shortlisted but may not be screened during the festival due to censorship issues.

Summer Palace, directed by Lou Ye, is a love story that follows the open and sexually free lives of Chinese students and how they deal with the bloody government reaction to the protests.

The jury is made up of famous
film directors and actors

China's film censorship body has said it cannot approve the film due to "technical problems" because the copy is not of sufficiently good quality.

However, the democracy protests remain a taboo subject in state-controlled media.

Entrants for the Palme d'Or will find out if they have won at the end of the festival on May 28, the winner being decided by a jury of film-makers and actors including Monica Belluci, Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson.

Cannes is the world's largest film festival.

It showcases big-budget and independent productions from Hollywood, Europe and beyond attracting a large smattering of A-list, and a fair number of H-list, celebrities.