On its surface, Welcome to New York is a thinly disguised version of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case. But in reality, it’s just another Abel Ferrara film about appetite. The director's most notorious deconstruction of gluttony and addiction, the masterful Bad Lieutenant, invited the audience to witness the seamy undoing of a corrupt cop. Here Ferarra presents the Strauss-Kahn character, referred to throughout only by his fictional last name Devereaux, as another victim of his own uncontrolled cravings.
Ferrara's Devereaux is a ravenous, immature pig. He is obese, childish and pathetic, existing, it seems, not to engage in any of the international banking business which defines his professional career, but only to exploit his position of power and privilege in order to satisfy his corporeal needs.
The first sequence in the film has him arriving in New York for what amounts to a one-night stand of debauchery, complete with booze, whipped cream and several prostitutes, before waking the next morning and assaulting a hotel maid soon after he steps out of the shower. The details of the assault aren’t clear, but it is certainly a non-consensual crime, one which Devereaux doesn’t begin to process until long after he is cuffed at the airport, booked and placed under house arrest in a $60,000-a-month condo rental.
After this lengthy buildup, which Ferrara films with a kind of stilted, documentary naturalism, the movie settles into a portrait of Devereaux’s marriage that is both fascinating and tedious.
Gérard Depardieu plays Strauss-Kahn (I mean, uh, Devereaux) with characteristic brio, unfazed by his own astonishing corpulence. He is more than willing to disrobe for either a strip search or a roll in the sheets with a playful hooker, a scene in which Depardieu looks like a monstrous whale cavorting with a sleek dolphin.
Jacqueline Bisset stars as his wife Simone, and her role, such as it is, may be the best work she’s ever done. In her first confrontation with her husband, after securing the condo, shutting out the media and shooing away the lawyers, she reveals herself to be a woman who has endured the extremes of her husband’s pathological carnality to satisfy her own indulgences of wealth and luxury. The two actors duke it out for several minutes, he admitting to his “sickness,” she acknowledging that she knew this was going to happen eventually.
Ferrara, working with his customary limited budget, confines much of the action to cramped rooms, and it becomes apparent he has no real interest in probing the “he said, she said” controversies of the case, nor in fleshing out any of the supporting characters. Depardieu’s voluminous flesh is enough for one movie, I suppose, and the director is content to explore the ways in which a powerful man’s uncensored needs can blinker him to the rules of law and the humanity of other souls. He’s a beast, pure and simple; all consuming and, eventually, released back into the wild. Ferrara cuts to actual TV news footage announcing Strauss-Kahn’s acquittal, leaving it up to us and Wikipedia to investigate the travesty the case became.
The release of Welcome to New York is embroiled in controversy, not because of the subject matter, but because Ferrara is claiming interference from the film’s production and distribution companies. They say he was supposed to deliver an R-rated film, he says he never makes R-rated films, and that the scene with the hotel maid was filmed as a rape, not as the ambiguous assault portrayed in the final cut.
Ferrara may be making a valid political assertion, but it hardly matters since he is unconcerned with the maid’s point-of-view. As for the sex scenes, they do have a clipped, incomplete quality, a coitus interruptus that neither Ferrara nor Devereaux would ever allow.
This review first appeared in The Restless Critic.