Gérard Depardieu is barnstorming as the outrageous subject of Abel Ferrara’s lurid Welcome to New York (2014), inspired by the scandal that ended Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s career. The former IMF chief – and presumptive French presidential candidate – denied all charges and has now taken steps to sue the film’s producers for defamation. Regardless of Ferrara’s adherence to true life, it’s a startling and compelling account not just of a sex addict, but a character whose wealth and standing in his field has allowed himself to be far removed from contemporary morality. Within five minutes, we’ve seen Depardieu’s Georges Devereux shack up with four escorts at an orgy in New York’s Carlton Hotel.
However, Devereux’s reckless (and repugnant) attitude means sex has become banal, his drug that’s as everyday as coffee. But he’s unhinged, proceeding to sexually assault a maid who comes in the morning to clean his room, the catalyst for the events that has him arrested, and his ambitions ruined. But it doesn’t change his mindset one bit: “Is it a crime that I want to feel young?” he barks at his wife (Jacqueline Bisset). He barely has to worry – he has the best lawyers money can buy and soon he’s out on house arrest because $1,000,000 bail is a drop in the ocean in his wealth. So far, so sensationalist – this is Depardieu at several removes from his Cyrano de Bergerac – where carnal lust and sexual gratification is the drug that keeps him going. But Ferrara leads us into more sophisticated waters.
Depardieu has become a bit of a pantomime villain in recent times, leaving France over tax affairs, greeted with open arms by the Russians (although if Putin watches this, he may not want him back). But this is just the kind of film that so works for Depardieu – his actions are repulsive, but he somewhat remains alluring, perfect for a film which occasionally taunts the audience for being so caught up in a story of sex and overindulgence. Ferrara adds a couple of moments that break the fourth wall, adding a bite as Ferrara playfully suggests the audience’s own guilt in letting people like Devereux get away with it. Perhaps in Devereux’s France, where Welcome to New York premièred at Cannes, the question invites the French public to question how they let Strauss-Kahn – who of course admitted a relation inappropriée with the maid – for so long. Depardieu grunts his approval, howls like a wolf, but is so caught up in his own enjoyment to notice anyone else caring. As we watch enthralled by his actions, are we not the same?
This review of was originally published on 20 June 2014 as part of our Edinburgh International Film Festival coverage.