Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Starring: Jacqueline Bisset, Gérard Depardieu, Drena De Niro, Amy Ferguson, Paul Calderon
Abel Ferrara's latest film, arguably his most high-profile in two decades, opens with a title card claiming the events of the movie are inspired by a real-life court case, however none of the characters are meant to be representative of any living people. Unless you've spent the past couple of years living in a fallout shelter, you'll instantly recognise the story as that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced former IMF managing director.
Here, Depardieu plays a wealthy French businessman, Deveraux, whose line of work is never explicitly referred to. While staying in New York's Carlton hotel, he enjoys an evening of debauchery in the company of some high class prostitutes. Everyone in the room knows exactly what they're involved in, but the following morning an unsuspecting maid interrupts a naked Deveraux emerging from his shower and is immediately subjected to a sexual assault. The Frenchman is arrested at JFK airport and placed under house arrest in a plush New York apartment, accompanied by his mortified wife Simone (Bisset, looking insanely good at 69).
Appealing for bail to be set to allow Deveraux to return to France, his lawyer argues that there shouldn't be a double standard for rich people accused of crimes. Of course, for some strange reason, as a society we do hold the rich to higher standards. Whenever a celebrity is accused of a crime we instantly find them guilty. How many of us believe OJ Simpson didn't murder his ex-wife? How many of us, regardless of the outcome of the current trial, will believe Oscar Pistorius didn't murder his girlfriend? Perhaps out of deep-seated jealousy, we view the rich with suspicion, presuming they arrived at their exalted positions in life through nefarious means. It's become a lazy shortcut for screenwriters to simply make a character wealthy when they want the audience to turn against that figure.
There's something hypocritical about Ferrara's film, particularly the casting of Depardieu, who walked out on his native France to avoid the high tax rate set for millionaires by the governing Socialist Party (ironically the same party Strauss-Kahn was a member of), choosing instead to cosy up to Vladimir Putin and keep his funds safe in a Moscow vault. That said, I can't think of another actor better suited to this role. Few could portray the arrogance of this character like the French icon. When Deveraux is subjected to a strip search, rather than feeling shame, he lets his distended stomach hang out in defiance. He admits to the sexual assault to his wife but feels no shame, passing it off as a symptom of his "sex-addiction", that curious "disease" that only seems to affect rich white men. Whatever you might think of his contentious off-screen persona, on-screen Depardieu is a big ball of charisma, and it's easy to see Deveraux as a seductive charmer, exuding a little boy lost vulnerability despite the protection of his wealth and status.
A country-twanged cover of America the Beautiful plays over the opening credits, presumably intended as irony on Ferrara's part, but it's incredibly naive to believe that this is a distinctively American story, as though no other Western country suffers from the dark side of capitalism. It's moments like this that make Welcome to New York an irritating, hypocritical and immature work of credit card socialism, but the extended scenes between Depardieu and Bisset make it a film worth suffering through. The pair deliver two of the year's most compelling performances and Ferrara's film serves as a sad reminder of how few great roles are available for older actors outside of patronising "grey pound" fluff.
By Eric Hillis