Cannes Film Festival's 'high-heels only' red carpet policy sparks outrage

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Stephanie Bunbury

Cate Blanchett attends the <i>Sicario</i> premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Cate Blanchett attends the Sicario premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Getty Images

Cannes, France: After years of rumbling discontent, a rebellion against the Cannes Film Festival's insistence that female guests must totter up the red carpet on high heels may finally be about to erupt.

Palais du Cinema door guards' rejection of several middle-aged women invited to Sunday night's premiere of Carol, the lesbian drama starring Cate Blanchett, created a ruckus that by Tuesday morning found even Benicio del Toro – possibly the most unequivocally masculine star on the screen – joking that he would wear high heels to his own premiere in protest.

'I think that everyone should wear flats, to be honest' ... Emily Blunt is not impressed
with Cannes' high-heels only ...

'I think that everyone should wear flats, to be honest' ... Emily Blunt is not impressed with Cannes' high-heels only rule, and her Sicario co-star Benicio Del Toro says he may start wearing them in solidarity. Photo: Reuters

At a press conference for Sicario, an action drama about CIA covert operations against Mexican drug cartels starring Emily Blunt as a tough, door-kicking cop, director Denis Villeneuve joked that he, along with the film's male stars Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, should wear high heels instead of the plain black shoes required by the male dress code.

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Emily Blunt was aghast when asked about the compulsory heel rule. "That's very disappointing, just when you kind of think there are these new waves of equality," she said. "I think that everyone should wear flats, to be honest."

The festival's rule on high heels has been in force since anyone can remember. I have been turned away from a screening on these grounds myself, after being openly jeered by a couple of security guards for my temerity in wearing strappy gold flats.

No flip flops allowed ... Model Doutzen Kroes poses for photographers.

No flip flops allowed ... Model Doutzen Kroes poses for photographers. Photo: Getty Images

This year, however, the festival has made a belated run to appear more female-friendly. There are more films by women directors in the official selection than ever before; for only the second time in its history, the festival opened with a film by a woman, Emmanuelle Bercot's Standing Tall, instead of the usual big-budget costume spectacular along the lines of Grace of Monaco or The Great Gatsby.

Men and women are in roughly equal numbers on the various juries. There are daily high-powered seminars on women and the film industry featuring speakers such as Jane Fonda, Isabelle Huppert and producers Christine Vachon and Megan Ellison.  

Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, who would have been 100 this year, is the face of the festival; her fresh, make-up free smile beams from posters on every second wall in Cannes. Of course, the great irony was that the issue should come to a head at a film about closeted lesbians in the 1950s. Sixty years later, a woman still isn't allowed to wear comfortable shoes.