At the start of Saturday night’s premiere screening of Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome To New York,” projected onto a screen in a tent on the Carlton Beach, Gerard Depardieu revealed in a brief on-screen interview why he had agreed to play a character who, for all intents and purposes, is disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. “Because I don’t like him,” said the French star. “I don’t trust politicians. I’m an individualist, I’m an anarchist.”
There was an ample display of Depardieu’s anti-DSK ethos in Ferrara’s film, not to mention the actor’s entire corpulent naked body for a degrading strip-search scene, in a towering performance (and less towering film) that achieves its aim of making you feel thoroughly repulsed by a man who views sexual rapaciousness as one of the entitlements of capitalist power and privilege. Called John Devereaux, Depardieu is off the leash in “Welcome To New York,” particularly in the opening stretch which follows a series of lurid, increasingly seedy and violent sexual encounters that eventually culminate in his infamous encounter with a hotel chambermaid, recreated in hideous detail. By the end of it, you’re feeling queasy and hoping that Ferrara and Depardieu might somehow rise to the challenge of crucifying that objectionable confluence of wealth, power and all-consuming avarice in the way that Martin Scorsese was unable to in “The Wolf Of Wall Street.”
What follows is fairly tedious, however, with a long stretch documenting the procedural efforts to prevent Devereaux leaving the country and placing him under house arrest as he awaits trial (the film finishes before his trial occurs). Once under house arrest, there are further, protracted scenes between Devereaux and his hugely wealthy wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), furious that he’s destroyed their grand political ambitions (DSK at one stage was tipped as the next French president). They’re memorable primarily for lasting too long and revealing too little of interest, occasionally punctuated by flashbacks which show sexual misbehavior with the young daughter of a family friend and a later less sensational sequence with an ambitious young lawyer who sleeps with him so he can help her career.
Ferrara’s film is brusquely executed and fueled by Depardieu’s visceral characterization, but dissipates from its initial ugly but compulsive frenzy to become something of a mundane ordeal (which, of course, it was anything but for the women who found themselves at this pig’s mercy).
Depardieu, Ferrara and Bisset turned up afterwards for a press conference, alongside co-writer Christ Zois and Vincent Maraval from Wild Bunch, which just launched the film on VOD in France. Of the graphic, violent sexual scenes that begin the film, Ferrara said, “We played those scenes out and it happened in front of the camera. And we filmed it. When I showed the film to Bernardo Bertolucci, he said, ‘This film reminds me of a Warhol film,’ like the proverbial fly on the wall. It is what it is. Depardieu’s performance is what it is.”
Depardieu chimed in: “It is violent to see me pretend to take pleasure in [those scenes]. No normal actress can do that. But those scenes are so sad, which is why they are violent. I hate the violence.” The actor also added a few moments of levity, declaring that the film was “not a porno because to be a porno you have to see a big dick going like that.” You can imagine the rest. (Bisset also generated some unintended laughter for her epic nine-minute answer to a question about finding her character.)
Maraval cited the fact that “Welcome To New York” is a US production with Errors & Omission insurance as protection against any potential legal repercussions in France, but added: “If they want to make us publicity, they are welcome.” For all his bravado, though, the film proved too hot to handle for the festival, having to screen outside official programming. When asked if they’d been given a reason, Depardieu replied, “We can imagine there was some pressure. When we hear Thierry Fremaux say that he really understands the Grimaldi family [for criticizing “Grace Of Monaco”], that says it all really.”