‘Welcome to New York’ is closely based on the high-profile sex scandal of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York City, where the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and potential candidate for the French Presidency was accused of sexually assaulting a maid in his hotel room.
Of course, Hollywood haven't just taken a cut-and-copy approach. The names have been changed, from Dominique Strauss-Kahn to Deveraux (Gerard Depardieu), and the dutiful wife Anne Sinclair to Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), however both characters are still closely mirrored after the real people connected to the case.
Taking an almost documentary approach, director Abel Ferrara does not hold back in showing the animalistic debauchery that Deveraux indulged in. From chronicling him in the Big Apple engaging in sexual orgies incessantly with numerous hired prostitutes to shooting the alleged sexual assault of the hotel maid in one uninterrupted take, leaving little room to the imagination.
Injecting an element of drama, Ferrara plays up the contrast of Deveraux's privilege versus the cold, hard realities following his innocuous arrest at JFK airport, and remand time in prison when bail was denied. He also intercut newsreel footage effectively and seamlessly to heighten the fact that these events were based on a true story.
Despite the brevity and harsh reality of the subject matter, the film’s editing was kept tightly paced and cleverly done, and there’s not a dull or redundent moment.
Ferarra also inserts two important flashback scenes of Deveraux’s dalliances with two young women from his past, which further builds towards the complexities of his character – is he a charming womaniser or an incorrigible arrogant monster?
The film seems to pass a judgement that veer towards the latter, evident by Deberaux exclaimation to his wife Simone in one pivotal scene when being questioned, “I did not rape her. I was merely jerking off on her”.
Casting wise, no one could be more perfect than Gerard Depardieu play the lead character. Not only does he bear a physical resemblance to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, he literally dives into the role abandoning all inhibitions, nude and otherwise.
This is not the first time Depardieu has taken on roles that required him to strip to show full frontal nudity, especially in his younger days, and he certainly shows no sign of slowing down or any embarrassment at his bloated 66-year-old physique.
Bisset, elegant as always, provides a much needed dramatic gravitas to spar and match with Depardieu’s bigger than life Deveraux.
Her most intense scenes with Depardieu occurs mostly within the walls of the high end duplex where Deveraux is placed under house arrest, and at its core, the scenes of these two veteran actors offers insight into the broken relationship between two people who had loved and hurt each other tremendously.
TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION
In a self referential opening scene where Depardieu the actor was apparently not in character but playing himself, he was asked by an interviewer why did he take on this role and he simply answered “Because I hate this man”. That pretty much sums up the position of the filmmaker.
Hence, it is not surprising that this film drew extreme reactions from audiences and critics alike, ranging from high praise to outright disgust.
Many people in France had believed at that time that Strauss-Kahn was being setup by political enemies and was totally innocent of all the accusations, while other critics have also pointed out that the film prominently featured the points of view and struggles of the power couple, while neglecting the story and voice of the less powerful, those of the maid and other victims.
Upon the film’s release, Strauss-Kahn has threaten to sue the filmmakers for slander, even as the sexual assault case against Strauss-Kahn has already been dismissed and settled out of court.
Regardless of what the real absolute truth is, both the story of Strauss-Kahn and the direction which the film has taken are controversial and polarising, and this is what makes ‘Welcome to New York’ such an intriguing and powerful film to watch.
‘Welcome to New York’ opens 16 July 2015