Welcome to New York opens with a brief, strange scene: In a hotel suite, Gerard Depardieu is being interviewed by journalists about his decision to play George Deveraux, a thinly fictionalized version of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who was on track to become France’s president until an allegation of rape in 2011 derailed his career.
In the scene, which lasts less than two minutes, Depardieu claims he doesn’t care about politics. When he says, “I’m an individualist, an anarchist,” he might as well be speaking for Abel Ferrara, who co-wrote and directed Welcome to New York. Ferrara is a world-famous filmmaker whose career has often teetered on the brink of the mainstream (he directed some episodes of Miami Vice and got Madonna to star in one of his movies) before pulling away every time. Ferrara is too prickly, too unruly, to ever be part of the system: Already, with Welcome to New York, he has gone on a rampage, accusing the production company Wild Bunch of sabotaging the film and denying his final-cut privilege by shaving almost 20 minutes from the version that screened at Cannes last year and toning down the graphic sexual material to earn an R rating.
But watching the theatrical version of Welcome to New York, you never get the sense that anything crucial is missing, really: If anything, the edits might have done Ferrara a favor. The movie doesn’t need to be any more explicit (or longer) to convey its central theme of a man who is so drunk on his power and wealth that he loses all sense of morality and becomes oblivious to the difference between good and evil. When Deveraux is accused of raping a maid at a posh Manhattan hotel (an act that is only seen in flashback, one of the changes that Ferrara has complained loudest about), he doesn’t seem to understand that he’s done something wrong. Released on bail, he reunites with his wife (Jacqueline Bisset), who has flown in from Paris and rented a $60,000-a-month apartment for them to live in during the trial.
In the movie’s best scene, Bisset lays into Depardieu with the rage and anger of a woman who has tolerated bad behavior for too long (there’s a fiery spontaneity to their verbal sparring that makes you wonder if the scene was improvised). Welcome to New York is Ferrara’s best, most controlled picture since 1996’s The Funeral, and his next one, the biopic Pasolini, which already screened at the New York Film Festival last year, has earned strong praise, suggesting the director, who had almost slipped away into obscurity, is entering a renaissance phase.
Like his best films (Bad Lieutenant, The King of New York, The Addiction, Ms. 45), Welcome to New York is unmistakably, scabrously Ferrara, right down to the stubbornness of its protagonist, who refuses to apologize for his excesses all the way to the bitter end (“I won’t fall in line!” he exclaims late in the film). The closest he ever comes to an admission of guilt is during a session with a psychiatrist, in which he allows that everything that has happened might be “a little bit my fault.” But in the next breath, he proclaims not to feel bad about anything he’s done or the people he might have hurt. In an Abel Ferrara movie, this sort of damaged, raging, unrepentant bull passes for an antihero.
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset, Marie Moute, Pamela Afesi, Paul Calderon.
Director: Abel Ferrara.
Screenwriters: Abel Ferrara, Chris Zois.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 108 minutes. In English and French with English subtitles. Vulgar language, graphic nudity, explicit sex, drug use, strong adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Tower Theater.