Welcome to New York Review

Posted: January 13, 2015 in Drama, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

welcome-to-new-yorkAbel Ferrara’s long, idiosyncratic career as a director has taken an interesting turn of late as the cult favorite who made his initial mark with two legendary exploitations films in the late 1970’s, The Driller Killer and Ms. 45,  and who also brought us a landmark in crime movies with the 1990 King of New York, now seems bent on inventing a new genre. Call it the psychosexual micro-biopic for lack of a better expression. In last year’s Pasolini and in his most recent effort, Welcome to New York, Ferrara elevates a particularly virulent form of carnality to the level of Shakespearean tragic flaw by showing contemporary great men undone by their physical appetites. Toward achieving that goal, he is far more effective in the former film than the latter.

Welcome to New York is an unnecessary and unwanted docudrama look at the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair of May 2011.  This story was the tabloid flavor of the month in the United States, but the reverberations were considerably more pronounced in France, where Strauss-Kahn was expected to run for the presidency. Instead, accusations of an assault on a hotel maid in Manhattan led to his arrest, incarceration, and resignation from his position as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Prosecutors subsequently dropped all charges, but French authorities initiated investigations into other accusations of criminal sexual improprieties, one of which is expected to go to trial this year.

In Pasolini, Ferrara demonstrated, at a minimum, sympathy and respect, if not outright admiration, for his subject: Italian filmmaker, writer, and activist, Pier Paolo Pasolini. He did not shy away from depicting Pasolini’s sexuality and its role in his death, but the film spends even more time on Pasolini’s work and his philosophy. The film also benefited greatly from Willem Dafoe’s masterful performance. Dafoe leveraged an uncanny physical resemblance to the late Italian into a haunting portrayal of an aging, somewhat self-destructive artist who is tiring as he reaches a crossroads.

In contrast, Welcome to New York enjoys none of these benefits. Ferrara seems to loath Strauss-Kahn or Devereaux as he is referred to in the movie in the flimsiest of thinly veiled attempts to avoid legal recriminations. The Strauss-Kahn stand-in is never given the benefit of a single scene that shows him as anything more as an indulged and entitled Id, all base instinct and no ability. The one business meeting in the script concludes with Devereaux’s hands under the skirt of a subordinate. This is not to say that Dominique Strauss-Kahn deserves better treatment. The assertion here is that the audience deserves a better movie.

Welcome to New York opens with Gérard Depardieu in a faux press conference, explaining his approach to portraying Straus-Kahn, and it is a portrayal that is impossible to evaluate objectively, all the more so given Depardieu’s increasingly boorish public behavior. It is as if he has been tricked into performing as himself. In this case, he does literally inhabit the role. Viewers are treated to full frontal and back views of his Falstaffian physique, and must suffer through repeated sex scenes that one would normally have to go to an extreme fetish web site dedicated to fans of fat to see. The sole compensation is watching Depardieu mug his way through an orgasm that appears as if he is doing an impersonation of Jim Carrey from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Someone, somewhere needs to get a GIF up and running stat with memes to follow.

The only other star of note in the production is Jacqueline Bisset as Simone, Devereaux’s wife who has no illusions regarding his character, but sees him as useful as long as he can advance her own ambitions. In real life, this translated to Anne Sinclair, who separated from Strauss-Kahn in 2012 and divorced him a year later. At the age of 70, Bisset remains beautiful and a screen presence, and the one gift of Welcome to New York is to see her once again and know that she is still capable.

As for Ferrara, he has been quoted as saying with regard to filmmaking, “You never finish editing. They just take it away from you.” Sometimes, Abel, that’s a good thing. Even if Welcome to New York seems like a half-baked idea brought prematurely to closure, spending any more time on it rather than setting off on a new project would have been a greater failure.

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