Director: Abel Ferrera
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset
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The high class world of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the work of Abel Ferrera are, at first glance, rather strange bedfellows. Films like The Driller Killer, King of New York and many others have a scuzzy, dirty feel to them, stories which, if they were people, would likely be kicked out of a Nando’s for smelling so bad. Scratch just below the surface, though, and the attraction to the story for Ferrera becomes all too obvious.
The rather extraordinary case of the ex-head of the IMF is one that could play out in virtually any walk of life – the alleged brutalisation of a woman by a man who thinks he’s so powerful that he would never be tarnished by it. Such a base, repungnant and disturbing case is catnip for a provocative filmmaker like Ferrera.
Before focusing on him, though, attention must be paid to Gerard Depardieu, a behemoth of a presence and an incredibly disturbing one to boot. The first act seems him repeatedly indulge in the sins of the flesh in a variety of ways with a great many women. He essentially becomes inhuman, communicating in animalistic noises and running on sexual instinct alone. That doesn’t sound like the most pleasant thing to watch and, indeed, it isn’t; Ferrera lingers on him as he grunts and moans, letting it all hang out and seeming like, as both actor and character, he really doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
As the film kicks its narrative into full gear, Depardieu’s Strauss-Kahn stand-in, “Deveraux”, further grunts and screams his way through proceedings, though this time while trying to protest his innocence. In conversations with other characters, including Jacqueline Bisset’s long suffering wife, Simone, or in moments even directly addressing the audience, he tries to bat away claims. When this doesn’t work, he gives in fully to his ego, the raging sound and fury of a man who genuinely thinks he should be untouchable and has no concept of how what he’s doing could be considered wrong. It is an incredibly brave and committed performance from Depardieu but one you don’t want to think about for too long.
Ferrera, interestingly, splits his film into essentially three parts. The first, as has been discussed already, is a rather disgusting look at Deveraux’s life, while the second becomes a sort of bizarre black comedy farce, as Deveraux is taken into custody and has trouble understanding what is being asked of him. Seeing this man need an explanation of what a prison guard means when he asks him to squat, or seeing him in a cell looking disgusted at those around him is disarmingly funny and Ferrera plays with this, letting the scenes spool out at length with a detached visual style.
This leads us to a third act, which mixes up confessionals with angry monologues. This is the least satisfying aspect of the film – at a shade over two hours long, Ferrera indulges in maybe one too many scenes of Deveraux and his wife arguing – although it certainly doesn’t fall off a cliff.
It is also intriguing how little Ferrera seems to be concerned with the actual case. The incident on which the plot hangs is dealt with quickly and his victim speaks only in traumatised and garbled language when interviewed by the police – the powerless victim given little voice by both perpetrator and filmmaker. The film is more about Deveraux as a man.
Welcome to New York is not a “nice” watch, nor does it ever really do anything to genuinely impress. What it does have, however, is an atmosphere of sickening excess and a grubbiness that feels hard to shake off. By the end, you feel like taking a shower in chlorine – which you suspect is exactly what Ferrera intended.
Welcome to New York is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
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