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Wear heels. But don’t take selfies.
[NEW YORK] The Cannes Film Festival is known for many things: yacht parties, topless starlets, Sylvester Stallone and friends rumbling down the Croisette in armored vehicles and, yes, the premieres of some great films. Another crucial element is its wonderfully French love of rules and regulations, as demonstrated by the partial list below.
The festival's director, Thierry Frémaux, said he believes that these rules are needed to keep up Cannes' long-established standards — and he is probably right. As maddening as all the dos and don'ts might be, the world's most famous film festival would not be the same without them.
— No Selfies
Anyone walking up the red carpet to a Cannes premiere in 2018 had to pass a scary sign that said, "Pas de selfie et de photo sur le tapis rouge, merci!" Anyone who tried to snap a selfie anyway was pounced on by an even scarier security guard.
Wasn't that going a bit too far? Not according to Frémaux, who decried the taking of selfies as a "ridiculous" and "grotesque" habit that encouraged people to hang around on the red carpet, thus turning a carefully choreographed premiere into "a vast mess."
Although the selfie ban didn't become official policy until 2018, Frémaux announced in 2015 that he was "waging a campaign" against the practice.
That was the year I saw Salma Hayek emerging from a news conference, only to be accosted by a journalist (not me, honest) who wanted to take a selfie with her. "Aw, I wish you could," lamented Hayek, "but I'd get in trouble with Thierry. Sorry!" And with that, she ducked into a waiting Renault and was gone.
— High Life
Every year, the festival is chided for not doing enough to support women in the film industry, so it was unfortunate in 2015 that several women were turned away from the premiere of Todd Haynes' "Carol" — yes, a drama about breaking free of patriarchal control — because they were wearing flat shoes instead of high heels.
Frémaux insisted on Twitter that any such stipulation was a mere rumor, and the festival's media office agreed that the dress code had "no specific mention about the height of the women's heels."
But apparently, the officials outside the Palais des Festivals didn't get the memo. Asif Kapadia, director of the Amy Winehouse documentary "Amy," wrote in a tweet that his wife had been barred from a premiere (although she was let in afterward) because her heels weren't high enough.
And Valeria Richter, a Danish producer, said that she had been stopped four times on her way into Gus Van Sant's "The Sea of Trees" — and that she had opted for flats because part of her left foot had been amputated.
Frivolous on one level and serious on another, the scandal gave newspapers an excuse to run glamorous photos alongside feminist think pieces, and the festival's organizers could enjoy all the free publicity while maintaining that they hadn't done anything wrong.
— Photogenic Photographers
If your shoes are deemed unworthy of the Cannes red carpet, you can console yourself with the thought that not only the celebrities must dress up for occasion, but also the press photographers who crowd the adjacent gantries. Yes, they, too, have to wear black tie.
Some male photographers have grumbled that their female counterparts can get away with wearing casual tops paired with black skirts or trousers, while the men have to sweat it out in bow ties and dinner jackets. But let's be honest: This has to be the one and only film industry event at which the dress code is tougher on men than on women.
— Big Screen, Not Small
Bong Joon-ho's "Okja" and Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories" were both booed at their Cannes press screenings in 2017 — but it wasn't because of the films, it was the Netflix logo that appeared before the opening credits. The issue was that Netflix films aren't shown in French cinemas before they go online, and so cinema-loving traditionalists (as well as cinema owners) were angry that Cannes was giving them houseroom.
Netflix's argument was that, under French law, any film released in cinemas cannot be streamed for three more years — a delay that would wreck the company's business model. But Fremaux sided with the traditionalists. From then on, he said, no film would be eligible for the Palme d'Or or any of the festival's other prizes unless it was booked into cinemas shortly afterward.
Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, responded by saying that, in that case, the company wouldn't bring its films to the festival at all, adding that Cannes had "chosen to celebrate distribution rather than the art of cinema."
Sure enough, Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" skipped Cannes in 2018 and premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it did pretty well for itself. But Fremaux was unrepentant: "Eventually we will understand," he said, "that the history of cinema and the history of the internet is not the same thing."
— No Spoilers
Until recently, press screenings of the biggest films at Cannes were held in the morning, with their star-studded gala premieres in the evening. But, in the social-media age, that meant that a film's cast and crew would sometimes be forced to grin away on the red carpet, knowing that their labor of love had already been trashed by thousands of critics. (Have I mentioned "The Sea of Trees"?)
Last year was different. Press screenings were delayed until the premieres were underway, so that a bad review could not spoil the party. As Frémaux put it, "The suspense will be total!"
This year, the schedule is changing again, with some critics allowed into morning screenings, some allowed into afternoon ones — with no one allowed to breathe (or tweet) a word about the film before its premiere.
As ever at Cannes: You might not understand the rules of the game (or "la règle du jeu," as Jean Renoir would have it), but you break the rules at your peril.