Welcome to New York sees two of cinema’s least-remembered legends from either side of the Atlantic – director Abel Ferrera and his latest muse Gerard Depardieu – teaming up to tell a thinly veiled, “dramatisation” of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story. Strauss-Kahn was arrested in May 2011 for allegedly assaulting a maid in his suite at the Sofitel New York Hotel. The details of the case remained as opaque and mysterious as one would expect of a case involving the head of the IMF. He was ordered to pay a $1million bail and confined to a luxurious Manhattan apartment to await trial. By August the trial had been dropped on the basis of “inconclusive evidence”, but not before numerous other allegations surfaced, leaving Strauss-Kahn’s reputation and career in tatters.
The adult in all of us knows that there is simply no point in dwelling on the events surrounding this case; it’s impossible to know much more about Strauss-Kahn, and we shouldn’t concern ourselves with imaginings. The nosey, petulant child in us yearns to weave some sordid fairytale of high-class escorts, drugs, bristling wives, and prison politics. The fact that this film even exists tells you which route Abel Ferrera took.
As an insight into the lives of the political elite, this film is barely as important as a tabloid gossip column. Every sordid cliche is spread thin, to laughable and irritating extremes. We have the sneering, animalistic, over-sexed politician – renamed ‘Devereaux’ – pouring champagne and Cialis cocktails over a hareem of barely youthful prostitutes in a hotel suite. We have the put-upon wife, the steely brains of the operation, who is done funding her bumbling husband’s mistakes, but can’t leave him for fear of shattering her own “philanthropic” career. We have the nervous maid, barely capable of speaking English, being bullied by cops and agents who know not to bite the hand that feeds them. The list goes on.
Nor does it work as a universal human tale. Rather than ruminating on some eternal truth at the heart of the Strauss-Kahn issue, and building slowly and gradually into a mythic tale of avarice and self-destruction, Ferrera chooses to hurtle thoughtlessly through surface glances. The opening half hour is an utterly detached porn shoot starring Depardieu’s ignoble, grunting mass of flesh as he thumps and pumps his way through a tasting tray of prostitutes, spurred on by a pitifully small contingent of hangers-on. Then, without pausing for breath, we tumble into the moment the hapless maid wanders in on Devereaux after a shower. He drops his towel. The rest, as they say, is make-believe.
Devereaux’s short stay in a New York prison is the only section of the film where Ferrera happens upon something genuinely intriguing. Freed from the details of real events, and not yet bored by his own story, Ferrera creates an interesting and almost nuanced world of isolation, and impending doom. It’s also a beautifully shot section of film – long, faded corridors and lurking shadows replacing the flat glossy sheen of the preceding erotic hotel scenes.
The success is short-lived, however. As Ferrera runs out of reported events to hang his story on, he spirals out of control into a dull and obvious climax: stagnant arguments between Devereaux and his wife in their luxurious Manhattan accommodation, long-winded monologues from the fallen king himself, and random cutaways to future victims of his greedy lust.
The film’s only real value is as a vehicle for Depardieu’s baffling performance: a sort of merger between mimicry and performance art. This is a man who has not attempted to age well, and seems to rather enjoy shovelling the full weight of his person into new and unexpected roles. They are almost one and the same – Ferrera’s treatment of the story, and Depardieu’s treatment of the central character – but somehow Depardieu achieves something more painfully, physically absorbing as he grunts and huffs through h is scenes. He is a man betrayed by his own thoughtless excess. He is a man who has lost his way, and seems utterly baffled by every passing moment as his life careens out of control.