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Abel Ferrara Isn't Scared of You: His Takes on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Gerard Depardieu, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Willem Dafoe

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire August 14, 2013 at 11:28AM

The last time Abel Ferrara came to the Locarno Film Festival, he was honored onstage in front of a thousand people. But when the seminal underground New York filmmaker arrived in town this week, he decided to remain under the radar. While putting the finishing touches on "Welcome to New York," a drama based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn hotel maid scandal, Ferrara is finalizing plans for a biopic about Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, a project he has been hoping to get off the ground for years. While en route to Italy in the throes of pre-production, Ferrara quietly showed up in Locarno for the final days of the festival and sat down with Indiewire at his hotel to discuss his upcoming projects.
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Abel Ferrara in Locano this week.
Eric Kohn Abel Ferrara in Locano this week.

The last time Abel Ferrara came to the Locarno Film Festival, he was honored onstage in front of a thousand people. But when the seminal underground New York filmmaker arrived in town this week, he decided to remain under the radar. While putting the finishing touches on "Welcome to New York," a drama based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn hotel maid scandal, Ferrara is finalizing plans for a biopic about Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, a project he has been hoping to get off the ground for years. While en route to Italy in the throes of pre-production, Ferrara quietly showed up in Locarno for the final days of the festival and sat down with Indiewire at his hotel to discuss his upcoming projects. 

What's the release plan with "Welcome to New York"?

Wild Bunch want to do it like a prizefight, a video on demand type thing. Like it comes out like the way you buy a Tyson fight. Sight unseen.

What about festival play?

I don't know. It was accepted in the Venice competition.

And you passed?

Yeah, we passed. I love Venice. That's my home country. We played Venice before. We won in Venice. "Mary" won the jury prize.

So you're over it?

I mean it's not that I'm over it. It's just a certain kind of film. With this film, it's about these guys and the world. Strauss-Kahn. When this cat got acquitted, it was front-page news around the world.

And that surprised you?

As much as people might say otherwise, nobody knows who's the head of the fucking world bank, the IMF. I'll give you a hundred dollars right now if you tell me who's the head of the world bank, of IMF. You don't know. Nobody knew who he was until that happened. He was doing his thing. He was going to be the president of France. How do you become president? You have to have to have a billion dollars. So DSK was going to become president and then this happens. Next thing you know, he rapes a maid in a hotel. All of a sudden, whoa, it's a big deal.

How would you describe your experience with Gerard Depardieu in the lead role?

Depardieu is the best casting choice. He's the real McCoy. When we shot with Depardieu, he just pulled a chair up before I got there. He has a passion for making movies like you've never seen in your life. I'm crazy, angry, pissed, all the bullshit of being a director -- and he's got not a worry in the fucking world.

Did you set out to produce a faithful take on what happened?

Welcome To New York

I set out to do it faithfully, but… I'm preparing a film about Pasolini, too. You start doing a film about somebody and all of a sudden you get the somebody who's playing it. With"4:44," I was doing a film about me and my girlfriend, and all of a sudden Dafoe's playing me. Wait a minute. Well, Willem isn't about playing me. Same with Depardieu. He doesn't really give a fuck about Strauss-Kahn, because, you know, is Strauss-Kahn a financial genius? Let me know tell you something. Depardieu has made about eight times as much money as Strauss-Kahn. Strauss-Kahn spends the bank's money, not his own. Depardieu, a single fucking guy from a poor fucking town in the middle of nowhere, has made about a billion dollars in his life. He's a fucking madman. He's an icon. How many guys are really like that? I said, "Dude, your life is like 35 times more interesting than anything we could think of." He would tell me stories. I researched a documentary about Strauss-Kahn for two years, but this guy's played him.

So what period of time does the film cover?

Well, we didn't shoot his childhood. You know, they grew up in Morocco, and I don't know what these guys did. All of a sudden they hit Paris and it's like off to the races, a chick trip. But the film is about what happened in the [New York hotel] room. That's the question.

Do you include that scene?

Yeah, of sorts. I mean, we have to have that. What, are you going to show JFK and not see him get shot? Well, I saw "Lincoln," and they didn't show him getting shot. That movie sucked, right? What happened to the Civil War? Where's his crazy-ass wife? I'm a fucking expert on Lincoln, so that film was like… this guy could pull shit off, he was a con man. I didn't get anything about that film. What were they trying to say?

Do you think "Welcome to New York" is your most political film?

Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, every film is a political film.

In the case of DSK, global economics?

What was his role on the world stage? Yeah, right, what was the IMF's role on the world stage? What does the IMF actually do? What's DSK's game plan? Her story, the chick [DSK's ex-wife Anne Sinclair], has a better story.

In what sense?

Her grandfather was Picasso's dealer in WWII. Nobody's making money off anybody now. The Gestapo's coming to town. Picasso says, "You've gotta protect my paintings." The guy left this close to getting gassed. He goes to New York. He's got money. In the next 10 - 15 years, he goes from being a millionaire to a billionaire. Now this is what nobody wants to talk about: How the fuck did he become a billionaire? That's the real movie, what happened to the paintings? The whole fight is over these paintings. Now this guy becomes a billionaire. This is all backstory [for the movie]. His granddaughter goes to Paris and becomes the Charlie Rose of Paris. DSK's a university professor. He's not a rich guy. But she falls in love with him. She's one of the richest women in the world. She has like 50 Picassos. She rented a house to an Iranian -- and this is in the movie a little bit -- and he thought he had this beautiful pad, with all this art that he bought. Then she comes in and [says], "Can you get out now and take all these shitty paintings with you?" The next minute she takes these Gauguins and throws them up against the wall. 

Next: DSK's libido, Depardieu's performance, and the Pasolini project.

Abel Ferrara

Getting back to DSK...

The IMF is broke. I mean, what is the strength of the American dollar? I don't want to get into this, but this is the politics of it. It's like nine movies. Go to Penn or Harvard Business School where they discuss it. The U.S. says, "Fuck this guy. He wants to run France? Let him try to run France from Rikers Island." But the guy set himself up. They're maniacs, like Berlusconi. They're short, little 68-year-old guys who gotta fuck. That's a movie, too. All of a sudden Viagra comes out and it's like crack cocaine and now these guys are like studs. Berlusconi fucked four or five chicks in a month. Ireland is dealing with people starving to death and people like Berlusconi spend more time organizing how they're going to fucking laid.

And you're saying the U.S. reacts to the power trips of rich people in other countries?

The point I'm trying to make is that the world is based on the American dollar. It's not the Euro or the Yen. Now what's the strength of the American dollar? It's the strength of the American military. There's no way anybody's going to beat the shit out of the American military yet. When there were 500,000 soldiers in Iraq, it was like, "OK, you want to get off the American currency? Suck on this." It's asserting that American money is sacrosanct. Whatever happened with DSK, nobody goes to Rikers for getting a blowjob. Somebody put the screws to this motherfucker. But this is like five movies. How do you explain that? I don't go see a movie about that. I'd go to business school to figure all this out. But if you go to Rikers and you're some rich white guy who raped a black chick? Come on. Your life expectancy is five minutes.

How did Depardieu approach the character?

Depardieu doesn't give a fuck about the guy. He's met the guy. What other people think about doing, this guy does. Depardieu has an oil well in Cuba. An oil well! So to him, Strauss-Kahn is nothing. He married a rich chick. Forget it. So he brings a whole world to this character. Guys like him and Harvey Keitel are on another level. I could tell all this to Gerard but he already knows it. I could talk about pimps, but he knows the pimps. He goes, "Viagra? We shoot it in our dick." The guy's off the fucking hook, dude. And he brought the money to the film.

Did you receive any pushback from your subjects?

OK, so now the chick don't want the film made. The wife. Never mind Strauss-Kahn. He just don't want a fat guy playing him. He thought Angelina Jolie's husband would play him.

Did you communicate with DSK?

I don't want to talk to him. I feel like I already know him. But she knows the deal and she came out about it.

You mean Anne Sinclair tried to keep you from making the film?

I couldn't get one penny in France. Now, [Vincent] Maraval at Wild Bunch, he's a revolutionary. He's going to get the money no matter what. Depardieu's a pull in himself. He's going to make the film. Everything's cool. Depardieu says, "I love your work, I love the film, I'll do it for nothing." OK, great, dogg. How about this? Not only does he do it for nothing, he goes out and gets the money. I don't even want to know where he got the money from. And then we got Jacqueline Bisset [to play the wife]. It's a similar thing going on now with my Pasolini movie with Dafoe. We have to go everywhere else except where the guy's from, Italy.

Why don't you think there's a good film about Pasolini?

Pier Paolo Pasolini at work.
Pier Paolo Pasolini at work.

You've gotta have the balls to do it. He's the man. Every night at 11 o'clock, he's at the train station. He's not one of these gay guys living a bourgeois life with his boyfriend. In addition to being a film director, he was also a major journalist, writing for a major Italian newspaper in 1975 when it was a war zone in Italy. Somebody stole the negatives of Fellini's "Casanova" along with Pasolini's "Saló." OK, the real way to make money in the film business was to steal the negatives. And Pasolini hung out with the guys who did it.

What's your movie going to focus on?

The last day of his life. The theory is that he was going to going to get the [missing] reels [for "Saló"]. And I've seen 'em now. They went with the alternate takes. That's an even better story. Part of the movie is to show that stuff. The next movie Pasolini he wanted to make was about St. Paul in Detroit. Imagine that. I want to shoot a scene from it. I want to actually shoot his descriptions. He was also writing a 1,700-page book about a very famous politician who was murdered on a phony airplane crash. Pasolini was going to name the guy who killed him. But he said, "I'm not a detective." I feel similarly. At a certain point, I'm an artist, I'm not making a documentary. I researched it, but maybe I didn't need to. Willem Dafoe is going to play Pasolini. Willem is not Pasolini, but he's a fucking awesome actor. I can't play him.

Are you optimistic that this movie will happen soon?

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IFC Films "4:44 Last Day on Earth."

We're going to make the movie. But you never know. We were going to start now. So we're going to start in a few months.

And Dafoe's available?

Dafoe never has the time. What am I going to tell him? "Whatever money you're offered to play the Green Hornet or whatever, in Spider-Man, don't do it"? If he's got a big job, we can wait. We can wait to have him work for nothing. Willem is committed to the project. I think my producer's going to come up with the money. We've got ARTE, we've got Canal Plus, we've got everybody, but we don't have one penny from Italy.