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EIFF 2014: Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara, 2014) 

“No one wants to be saved.”

It is a scientifically observed fact that it is impossible to discuss Abel Ferrara’s film canon without liberal use of the word “lurid” and his latest slice of sex’n’depravity, Welcome to New York, firmly ensures there shall be no deviation from this phenomenon.  Inspired by the scandal that ended Dominic Strauss-Kahn’s career, the former head of the IMF, who resigned his post amid accusations of sexual assault in 2011 (the case was later settled out of court), the material in the film is considered so vilifying Strauss-Kahn is now suing Ferrara and the film’s producers for defamation. Gerard Depardieu – himself no stranger to scandal – plays the fictional Devereux, a banker and heir apparent to the French presidency. He’s a repugnant, amoral creature, all appetite. Landing in New York, he sets about something of a sexual rampage. 

 

The film’s opening twenty minutes are dedicated to multiple orgies between Devereux and high-end escorts – all impossibly nubile beauties and improbably turned on by his grotesque, misogynistic rutting. These sequences smack of gratuity, even if they could be argued to be detailing his sexual rapaciousness and the banality of these interactions, and play out so long you’re in the unusual position of welcoming the attempted rape scene when it comes, if simply for being tonally different and offering up psychological intrigue. The scene is one of stark horror, and signals the start of the action proper, as Devereux is arrested trying to depart the US and begins a privileged trip through the American penal and legal system. His Lady Macbeth-inflected wife, played with little skill or nuance by Jacqueline Bisset, flies to his side, supporting him publicly and railing against him in private for ruining all her plans.  

 

The film is nothing if not tonally uneven, with the domestic drama between Depardieu and Bisset (who is no match for the Gallic star’s towering performance) lapsing into hammy melodrama. “I had some balls already, but you gave me more,” Bisset barks, aiming for intrigue and instead eliciting guffaws. By contrast, the scenes of NYPD officers brusquely attempting to intimidate Devereux are compelling and realistically played, their treatment so inhuman one momentarily feels sorry for the utterly contemptuous anti-hero. Devereux’s initiation into prison, in particular, makes for a spell-binding set-piece, and it is for this central section that the film comes most alive. Droll comedy is wrought from the well-written, finely played scenes between Devereux and his daughter, with whom he has a strong, if woefully inappropriate, rapport. 

 

A sweating, lumbering, unapologetic mass, Depardieu leers and pants his way through the picture, his performance riveting from the (to my mind, pretentious) opening scene to the last. He’s utterly repulsive but seeringly magnetic – it is impossible to peel your eyes away during the many distressing scenes in which he gapes and paws at different young women. That the film, for all its variability and lack of revelation, is so compulsively watchable is in large part thanks to his performance. 

 

Shallow, uneven, sweaty and gratuitous, Welcome to New York is flawed as fuck, but a lurid extravaganza. And so Ferrara’s law is observed again. 

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