Film

Rough Cuts

Abel Ferrara, Welcome to New York, 2014, color, sound, 125 minutes. Devereaux (Gérard Depardieu).

ABEL FERRARA’S WELCOME TO NEW YORKa thinly veiled recounting of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s infamous May 2011 stay at midtown Manhattan’s Sofitel Hotel in which only the names have been changed—begins with a lengthy disclaimer, and so will this review. The version of the film set for theatrical and VOD release this Friday—and the only one I’ve seen—is not the one that made its world premiere last year at Cannes (where it was conspicuously not part of the festival’s official selection). More to the point, the most recent iteration of the movie—which, ostensibly to secure an R rating, shaves off seventeen of the original’s reportedly more orgy-filled 125 minutes—is the one that Ferrara emphatically doesn’t want you to see. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Ferrara “issued a cease and desist letter [on March 13] addressed to [the movie’s US distributor] IFC Films in New York and to the film’s global distributor Wild Bunch in Paris”; the latter company made the trims to Welcome to New York after the director refused to do so.

With this caveat now out of the way, I’ll say this: Despite the troubling violence done to Ferrara’s movie, it’s difficult to imagine that the original is a vast improvement over the expurgated version. Welcome to New York begins unpromisingly: A fourth-wall-obliterating scene features Gérard Depardieu, who plays the DSK surrogate Devereaux, participating in a staged press conference, where a “journalist” asks, in heavily French-accented English, “Why did you accept to play this part?” The superfluous gambit may be an epigraph of sorts but plays more as a hedge for the actor, who was also the subject of a fairly recent scandal, if one not as sordid as that which brought down the one-time head of the IMF: Depardieu’s stature as beloved pillar of French cinema was tarnished in 2013, the year he became a citizen of Russia, where he enjoys significantly lower taxes—and Putin’s friendship. More wearying still is the opening-credits sequence that follows, a dully ironic montage that features twenty-dollar bills being printed and bundled, and is scored to a lethargic C&W version of “America the Beautiful.”

That bluntness never ceases in Welcome to New York, which, after this prologue, essentially recapitulates the chronology of Strauss-Kahn’s flameout after he was accused of sexually assaulting Nafissatou Diallo, a housekeeper at the Sofitel. (Here played by the Carlton, whose branch in Lille, in northern France, was central to the trials that concluded just last month in which DSK and thirteen others were charged with “pimping and abetting prostitution”; a verdict is expected later this spring.) But that isn’t to say that Ferrara, who wrote WTNY’s script with Chris Zois, wields his cudgel wholly unadmirably. Devereaux is consistently presented as a pig: His grunts during a three-way in the bedroom of his VIP suite are indistinguishable from those uttered when, held by the NYPD after the alleged attack on the hotel maid, he must submit to a strip search—the denuding also forcing the viewer to submit to Depardieu’s obscenely massive gut. Though the case against DSK was soon dropped by the prosecution owing to Diallo’s lack of credibility—Ferrara includes obviously Internet-sourced footage of Kenneth P. Thompson, Diallo’s lawyer at the time, stating as much—it’s never in doubt whose side Ferrara takes.

But the director’s bracing fury is weakened during much of the second half of the film, when Simone—the analogue for Anne Sinclair, DSK’s billionaire (now ex-) wife, played by Jacqueline Bisset, who replaced Isabelle Adjani—posts her debauched spouse’s one-million-dollar bail and secures a sixty-thousand-dollar-a-month rental in TriBeCa, where the couple hole up while Devereaux is under house arrest. The ferocious fights between the couple, which, puzzlingly, are carried out mostly in English—even though the UK-born Bisset is fluent in French, a bilingualism that her costar hasn’t quite yet attained—often come perilously close to farce. Depardieu’s untamable vowels (“I don’t need your monay!”) and elision of prepositions (“I jerk on that lady. On her mouth”) are almost as bad as the truisms that Bisset must deliver: “The other side of love isn’t hate—it’s indifference.” In the end, Ferrara’s fact-based film fails to leave the scalding imprint of one that more obliquely treats the Sadean excesses of DSK and other French operators: Claire Denis’s Bastards (2013), which stages its scenes of unspeakable depravity not in high-end resorts but in corncob-strewn barns just outside Paris.

Welcome to New York opens in San Francisco and will be available nationwide on VOD on March 27.

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