Welcome to New York (2014)

Review first published by Film4

Synopsis: In his first feature to get a UK release since 1997’s The Blackout, Abel Ferrara offers a fictionalised account of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal in New York.

Review: Although Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his wife Anne Sinclair are never so-named in Abel Ferrara’s Welcome To New York – “inspired by a court case” but “entirely fictional” according to the opening disclaimer – this has not prevented the Parisian financier and one-time Presidential hopeful for the Left from suing for defamation. For while the real Strauss-Kahn, much like Devereaux (Gérard Depardieu) here, was ultimately cleared by a New York court of raping a hotel maid owing to her unreliability as a witness, it is made clear that Devereaux really does commit at the very least a sexual assault upon both the maid and a young journalist.

At one point, a lawyer explains to Devereaux’s wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset) that they are facing two trials: one in the criminal court, the other in the court of public opinion. It is the latter which seems to interest Ferrara more, as he clinically presents Devereaux’s sexual antics in the office, the revolving door of prostitutes visiting his New York suite, his arrest at JFK Airport, his treatment by the police, his pre-trial, his remand in prison, his hearing in a bail court, and his ‘confinement’ to an opulent rented home awaiting the trial’s outcome.

In all this we see a larger-than-life antihero exposed (often literally) to the camera’s cool gaze. At times reduced by Depardieu to animalistic grunts and roars, Devereaux is by turns grand, pathetic, appetitive, childish, loathsome, uncomprehending of guilt and utterly human. And in his final gesture, turning to camera to look us right in the eye, he defies us to judge him and his actions, even as we realise that his loss of innocence and ideals are also our society’s, and perhaps our own, before the corrupting power of the very money shown being printed at the film’s beginning.

In a nutshell: In this ripped-from-the-headlines drama of crime and non-punishment, Ferrara stares unblinkingly into the moral abyss of a world where money speaks its own privileging language.

Anton Bitel