Welcome to New York recounts the 2011 court case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French head of global banking institution IMF, who was close to announcing his presidential candidacy when he was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid.
Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) tells a one-sided version of events, that point to Dominique (here renamed Devereaux and played by Gerard Depardieu) as a sex addict, a rapist and a monster. The controversial subject matter and explicitness of the film meant it premiered Out of Competition in Cannes and wasn’t touched by French distributors, who were waiting to see if the film would be censored. It wasn’t, and now the UK will be the first to be able to see the film in a cinema.
This is the anti-Wolf of Wall Street – instead of glamorising the debauchery of the banking world, it shows it as seedy and criminal, where mountains of money have created a permissive culture and where the powerful players can buy their way out of anything.
The first 30 minutes of the film may turn off a lot of viewers. It’s spent watching Depardieu (and his massive belly) go to New York hotels, smear viagra-laced ice cream on prostitutes, and then have multiple orgies. Then the attack; a maid comes to clean the room and is met with a naked Devereaux, who forces himself onto her face. It was trying to be shocking and repulsive and it succeeded 100%. If you haven’t left the cinema after 20 minutes you’re doing well. But, having seen it through, the rest of the film is quite different.
Devereaux has boarded a plane to Paris and is sitting in first class sipping coffee when the police drag him out, arrest him and then lock him up. Making him strip and squat is the ultimate humiliation for him (ironically after the first half of the film), but shortly his wife, Simone, bails him out for $1 million and then he stays under house arrest in Tribeca, in a $60,000p/m apartment.
The most shocking thing of all is that Devereaux doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. He admits to being ‘a womaniser’ (gross-understatement) and then later defends himself by asking: “Is it a crime that I want to feel young?!”
Although the film is a tough watch, and offers no likeable characters or lessons learned, Depardieu delivers an excellent performance, where his bombastic figure and real-life reputation for shameful acts (peeing on a plane) add to his believability. In fact, in regards to the sex scenes, Ferrara has said “We didn’t rehearse those scenes. Everything in those scenes, the sexuality, the power, his aphrodisiac force, is him.” Whenever Depardieu claims that he has no self-control, it’s either the best acting of his career or there’s some true-to-form aspect to it.
It’s no surprise that the real Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said that he was ‘sickened’ by the film and will be suing Ferrara for defamation – his character is an absolute monster and a sociopath. However, it’s an intriguing film to behold, and poses questions about whether justice was served. See it while you still can.
Welcome to New York will be released in UK cinemas on Aug 8.