High heels, nazis, and colonoscopies: Ten of the biggest Cannes controversies

The world's biggest film festival has been no stranger to scandal in its 70 years

High heels, nazis, and colonoscopies: Ten of the biggest Cannes controversies

Lars von Trier 'sympathises' with Nazis and Kirsten Dunst's face says it all [Twitter]

When Israel’s highly conservative Culture Minister Miri Regev took to the red carpet on the opening night of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, she made a politically charged statement with her skirt.

Sporting a gown commissioned specifically for the event, Regev’s dress featured a print of the Jerusalem skyline, complete with images of the Western Wall, the Tower of David and the Dome of the Rock.

But the dress has courted controversy as Regev revealed it was a ‘celebration’ of the golden anniversary of the “liberation and reunification of Jerusalem.” 1967’s Six-Day War may have stitched together the eastern and western halves of the city, but the international community refuses to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian eastern side.


Regev, who was attended the famous festival as part of the Israeli pavilion, also shared a video on her Facebook page, advertising the country as a Mecca for filmmakers, showcasing the scenic beauty and cultural diversity of Jerusalem and Israel.

The video appears to show Jews and Christians praying and celebrating, while Israeli Arabs and Palestinians are sidelined – although a mosque is briefly shown.

The dress scandal is just the latest in the Cannes Film Festival’s 70-year history. As the world’s most famous celebration of film, the Riviera city has also played host to some of the most bizarre marketing moments in the decades since it launched.

Here are the 10 strangest things to have happened at Cannes over the years...

  • Des talons hauts, s’il vous plait

At the 2015 festival, reports emerged that several women were turned away from the red carpet gala screening of Carol, the lesbian romance starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Rooney Mara, Todd Haynes and Cate Blanchett attending the Carol premiere at the 68th Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2015 [Dave Bedrosian/Geisler-Fotopress/DPA/PA Images]

One woman was reportedly turned on her heel for daring to wear ankle boots, but another was physically pushed off the carpet by security guards for her sandals. Festival organiser Thierry Frémaux brushed it all off, simply saying it had all been “one security guard’s excess of zeal.”

  • “You never look as ugly as you do in a selfie.”

All in all, 2015 was a bumper year for Frémaux running foul of female attendees, when the festival director expressly banned selfies from the red carpet.

Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank pose for a selfie at the 2014 festival [Abd Rabbo Ammar/ABACA/PA Images]

Seen as a pot shot at the various fashionistas who flock to Cannes every year, Frémaux said he based his decision on simple crowd management – stopping to pose for a social-media post creates bottlenecks on the red carpets leading to the gala screenings.

  • “Just a joke – a really bad one.”

Amid heightened security following a string of terrorist attacks in France, the 2016 festival played host to a bafflingly misjudged PR stunt by the French online property company Oraxy.


Flying a black flag with the company’s logo in white, six men dressed in commando gear and with their faces covered stormed the Hôtel du Cap Eden-Roc – a favourite of the A-list attendees – in what appeared to be a simulated attack. As guests ran screaming, police called things down and it was all revealed to be a gimmick to sell high-end broadband capabilities.

  • “You f****** c***, you were supposed to be my friend!”

Iconic New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael served on the jury of the festival in 1977, the same year that American auteur Robert Altman’s 3 Women was competing for the Palme d’Or.

As a long-time champion of his films in her writing, Altman was reportedly furious when the only award the film secured was an Actress nod for Shelley Duvall. Spotting Kael at an exit after the final ceremony, Altman reportedly screamed abuse at her in front of hundreds of witnesses.

  • Ukraine’s prankster creeps everyone out

Before he mooned his way to a prison cell at the Eurovision this year, Vitalii Sediuk made international headlines for a repulsive stunt in 2014. At the premiere of How to Train Your Dragon 2, the cast of the film had gathered for a press call photo shoot. Sneaking onto the red carpet, Sediuk crawled up behind actress America Ferrera, sticking his head under the skirt of her gown before being pulled away by security.

  • Crash splits everyone, but takes home a unique prize

David Cronenberg’s erotic thriller, an adaptation of a JG Ballard novel, received boos and cheers as the festival attendees watched the story of a group of people finding sexual release at the site of car crashes. “Expletives were thrown,” producer Robert Lantos said of the premiere, “a fight broke out.”

The film didn’t bag the Palme d’Or that year, but the jury was so struck by its ambition that they awarded it a special prize for daring and audacity – the first and only time such a prize has been doled out.

  • Bee Movie generates buzz

It’s not every day that multimillionaire comedian Jerry Seinfeld flies over the streets of Cannes from the Carlton Hotel to the Croisette, the epicentre of the entire festival, dressed in a giant fluffy bee costume. But that’s what went down in May 2007, when DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg convinced him to do it – by first testing out the rigging himself.

  • Une demi-Palme d’Or

While the difficult production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is the stuff of legend, the film’s debut at Cannes makes for an interesting footnote. It is alleged that the American director would only agree for his take on Heart of Darkness to show at the festival if the jury would award it top honours at the 1979 festival.

Francis Ford Coppola, Catherine Deneuve and Volker Schlondorff at the 1979 festival [Wiki Commons]

Which it did – although it had to share the prize with The Tin Drum when French screen icon Catherine Deneuve announced two winners on the night. Gilles Jacob, then the festival director, said in interviews that he recalls Coppola shaking his hand and bregrudgingly saying, “I have won half a Palme.”

  • “Okay, I’m a nazi.”

Danish director Lars von Trier, no stranger to controversy, took part in a press conference in 2011 that was such a car crash that it could have been a scene in David Cronenberg’s Ballard adaptation. Promoting Melancholia, Trier responded to a question about the film with a confused and rambling attempt at edgy humour.

With his two leading ladies sitting on either side, von Trier said he “sympathised with Hitler,” resulting in him being banned from the festival and likely costing him the Palme d’Or. The whole affair was worth it for Kirsten Dunst’s reactions alone...

  • “It was the worst film in the history of the festival...”

Cinéphiles were somewhat taken aback when the festival admitted American artist Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny into competition in 2003. Despite being relatively unknown on the film circuit, the actor and model produced a low-budget film that was derided by everyone for its infamous closing scene – in which actress Chloe Sevigny performed real oral sex on Gallo in a prolonged close-up.

When famed American film critic Roger Ebert announced it as the worst ever in Cannes history, a war of words broke out between him and Gallo, with the filmmaker revealing he had hexed Ebert’s colon.

“I am not too worried,” Ebert replied. “I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny.”

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