Few actors in the world are better suited to play a gluttonous pig than Gerard Depardieu, and I mean that in the best possible way one can make such an assertion.
I mean, the man looks like he’s one more sexual encounter or rich meal away from keeling over from an overdose of living high on the hog.
In Abel Ferrara’s lurid, sometimes grotesque, train-wreck-watchable “Welcome to New York,” Depardieu almost literally fills the screen as an enormous bear of a man with insatiable appetites for money, sex and power. The character’s name is “Devereaux,” but he is clearly based on the former IMF chief and one-time French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who in 2011 was arrested in New York on charges he had assaulted a hotel maid in his suite.
(Although the charges were subsequently dropped, mostly because prosecutors were concerned about the accuser’s credibility, Strauss-Kahn did agree to a settlement with the alleged victim for an undisclosed amount in a civil suit, was implicated in a number of other scandals, saw his reputation reduced to tatters and was divorced by his wife, Anne Sinclair.)
Devereaux arrives in New York City on business, but first there’s the business of orgiastic indulgence. When Devereaux enters his hotel suite, a couple of sleazy, unnamed male associates and a number of prostitutes are already in full party mode — guzzling booze, snorting drugs, consuming one another. Devereaux dives in with gusto and engages in a marathon party session — and once it winds down and the women have taken their leave, he starts all over again with two NEW exotic escorts, who will do whatever he says because he’s the man with the cash.
Ferrara chronicles Devereaux’s debauchery as if he’s making an unrated sex film (the director has protested cuts that were made to give “Welcome to New York” an R rating), but after an encounter with a hotel maid that Devereaux claims was consensual but the maid claims says was rape, the film make a drastic switch in tone.
As Devereaux is detained at JFK Airport, gets locked up in a holding cell, submits to fingerprinting and mug shots, and endures casual taunts and rough treatment at the hands of cops, it all plays out like a procedural, almost a documentary. There’s a flicker or two of sympathy for Devereaux, who pleads to make a phone call and is humiliated by cops joking about his girth and his, um, manhood — but we’re quickly reminded of WHY he’s under arrest in the first place. What Devereaux is enduring doesn’t add up to 1 percent of the pain his victim allegedly suffered.
Ferrara and his co-writer, Chris Zois, leave little doubt about what happened in that hotel suite. In this “inspired by true events” fictional drama, the powerful man from France is guilty as sin, and guilty of countless sins throughout his adult life. But, given Devereaux’s status as one of the most influential and wealthiest men in the world, there’s considerable doubt as to whether the punishment will fit the crime.
Jacqueline Bisset is a force as Devereaux’s wife, Simone, a woman of considerable class and ambition who knows full well of her husband’s dalliances — but is appalled and disgusted when he is charged with rape. (She doesn’t seem all that concerned about the victim, but she IS horrified her husband has thrown away everything they’ve worked for because he can’t control his impulses.)
When Devereaux is placed under house arrest, Simone sets up camp in a three-story, $60,000-a-month townhouse in Tribeca. (Ferrara filmed in the actual home DSK’s wife rented in 2011.) In one of the movie’s most powerful scenes, Devereaux turns to his wife for sympathy — but she reads him the riot act in devastating fashion, reducing him to the pathetic man-child he truly is behind all the trappings of his wealth and power.
The more we learn about this Devereaux, the more we feel “Welcome to New York” could well have been titled, “Good Riddance.”
Sundance Selects presents a film directed by Abel Ferrara and written by Ferrara and Chris Zois. In English and French with English subtitles. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated R (for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, a rape and language). Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center and available on demand.