In a career that has so far careened through a variety of controversial films (Bad Lieutenant,The King of New York), independent director Abel Ferrara fashioned what might well be one of his best yet in 2014. The controversy this time, though, was such that we might never see the original 125-minute cut that ran overseas, since the producers and distributors insisted on a 109-minute, less-explicit version for U.S. release, which went just about straight to video. Despite Ferrara’s justified howling and subsequent disavowal of his film, for now, the strategically edited film is all we have.
But what we have is still really damn good.
Welcome to New York (the title dripping irony) is based on the 2011 criminal case of aspiring French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then head of the International Monetary Fund, who was accused of sexually assaulting a West African housemaid at the upscale Manhattan hotel where he was staying. Ferrara, however, is not interested in the courtroom drama. Instead, he focuses squarely on the Strauss-Kahn character (here called Devereaux), played with ferocious abandon by Gerard Depardieu.
The film opens with a statement declaring that what follows is a fictionalized version of the case “about which everyone has his or her own point-of-view.” We’re reminded how the case ended with the indictment thrown out because of the victim’s “lack of credibility.” From the start, it’s clear Ferrara is not interested in plot or suspense.
Next, a one-minute discussion between Depardieu and a handful of interviewers about the movie, acting in general, and the character he plays. Then we get introductory film titles, accompanied by shots of New York landmarks accompanied by a rendition of “America the Beautiful.” What a set-up!
The narrative proper begins with scenes of the prominent Devereaux’s arrival in New York and the coterie of sycophants who arrange his various trysts with high-class hookers. A monument of excess himself, the hugely overweight Depardieu moves through the flesh and booze like a force of nature before his morning encounter with the hapless maid.
Ferrara follows the unsuspecting Devereaux through the city’s underbelly as he’s apprehended, booked, and jailed, thrown in with lowlifes before the lawyers his wife hires begin to work their wiles. The rest of the film traces the obese hedonist’s confrontations with his wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset, in a terrific performance) and daughter, trying to convince Simone of his innocence, at least in regard to rape. In his eyes apparently, his sexual molestation was not really a crime, much like another political figure who publicly proclaimed that he “did not have sex with that woman.”
As Devereaux contemplates the ruin he has made of his career (no real regrets there, he says) and his marriage (a façade anyway), he’s finally forced to admit it’s his own damn fault. He’s not stupid. A former professor, once a religious believer, he now confesses to his wife that he only feels alive when he is making love. A bit of a harpy herself, she still doesn’t buy it. Nor are we really meant to.
Nonetheless, in the film’s closing moments, Devereaux asks another housemaid if she thinks he is a nice man. Her reply (even though in the affirmative) leaves him staring wistfully, sadly, into the camera.
A real bastard? Maybe. Yet Devereaux is no monster – just a very flawed man with great potential who lost it all. The closing titles scroll to the accompaniment of a song (written by Ferrara) with the refrain that “Every little lie is a tear.”
Sad, but, oh, so true!