MIFF 2014: Welcome to New York
“Welcome to New York”. As Abel Ferrara’s film opens with the printing of US currency, to the strains of “America the Beautiful”, you realise that title’s ironic. And it beats its message into your head… again, and again, and again. If you’re even passingly familiar with the real-life Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assault case — in which the once-aspiring French president and director of the International Monetary Fund was acquitted of charges against a New York hotel maid — you already know the “facts”. Did you think The Wolf of Wall Street was too entertaining, too lenient? Well, Welcome to New York shares your concerns, while mooning you with its bare ass. Strauss-Kahn announced his intent to sue in May, and whether or not he has a legal case, he’s probably justified. Abel Ferrara must be delighted, if he’s capable of taking pleasure in anything at all.
The objective times and places of the case are relatively intact, but Ferrara builds his “fictional” character Devereaux from the incident backwards. What kind of a man, who can buy virtually any woman he wants, would risk all his formidable power on a meaningless encounter with some maid? But it’s not why; it’s that he can’t help himself. The real-life Strauss-Kahn must be an otherwise intelligent man, but as played by Gerard Depardieu, Devereaux is entirely loathsome; an inarticulate, blustering fool whose wealth has long since done away with the need for tact. Much of the film is about how powerful men almost involuntarily reinforce and externalise their own dominance. As the unfortunate maid stumbles across the naked Devereaux, flaunting all of Depardieu’s 300-pound girth, he needs to feel invulnerable, even at his most exposed. Later, when he’s being stripsearched in prison, his nudity becomes an act of grotesque defiance. Welcome to New York has more than a little too much in common with its protagonist. It’d please the fictional Devereaux to know his grunting, thrusting exertions are pissing off not only hookers, cops, his wife, the rabble outside his $60,000 a month house-arrest apartment — but a paying audience, too.
So where does Devereaux’s repulsiveness end, and Abel Ferrara’s nihilism begin? The film’s first third, all hedonism and “consensual” orgies, is so protracted it must be setting us up for something. When Devereaux is finally arrested, it’s sobering, but then the court proceedings are skipped almost entirely. With little effort, the film descends into self-loathing, misanthropic philosophising, alternating with flashbacks to even more sexual encounters. By the sixth(?), hair-pulling rape scene, we’ve lost all meaning. It’s pornography with the exact opposite intent. Sex is a kind word for what takes place behind Devereaux’s doors. To him, and to Ferrara, the world is some hellish purgatory; just pigs ruling over more pigs. We’re no better than them, and we’re not above walking out of the cinema either. Is Ferrara just fucking with us? He has no empathy for Devereaux, but even less detachment from his twisted mind.
True to real life, Welcome to New York offers no satisfaction, comeuppance or resolution for its crimes. It’s an indiscriminate battering ram of a film, in the shape of Gerard Depardieu’s exposed, heaving gut. If it succeeds, it’s by force — certainly not virtue. But what if it doesn’t need value? What if the film itself is a placeholder, created to troll the deserving rich and powerful by simply existing? Welcome to New York is a wildly, smugly defamatory film about a sociopath, made by another sociopath. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Devereaux and Abel Ferrara deserve each other. A three-headed, circle-jerking ouroboros; they can go fuck themselves in the trash together.