Gerard Depardieu is odious but compelling in Abel Ferrara's dark tale of a sexual predator
From Harvey Keitel’s crooked cop in Bad Lieutenant to Christopher Walken’s twisted gangster in King of New York, director Abel Ferrara fathoms the dark souls of his greed-fuelled protagonists. Welcome to New York pushes the envelope with a story inspired by a court case that brought to light the seedy exploits of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Khan.
Accused of sexually assaulting a maid in his New York hotel room in 2011, Strauss-Khan was acquitted when her evidence was undermined by his expensively assembled legal team. A civil suit was settled out of court with the banker admitting inappropriate behaviour.
Gerard Depardieu channels Ferrara’s research of the scandal to play Devereaux – the head of a bank whose about to declare his candidacy for the French presidency. The Gallic actor’s unflinching portrayal of a predatory sex addict is difficult to watch. We’re given a glimpse of the sense of entitlement enjoyed by the super rich as Devereaux’s financial ‘master of the universe’ indulges his every whim with prostitutes and call girls. It all makes for uncomfortable but compelling viewing as Depardieu, a former enfant terrible of French cinema, grunts and wheezes his way through the first half of the film – a gargantuan corpulent pig at the trough of debauchery whose prison cell comeuppance Ferrara revels in.
The director calls Depardieu a “force of nature” and says the film’s orgy scenes with non-actors were neither scripted nor rehearsed. “What you see in the film – the relationship between him and those girls – that’s what really happened. This guy’s been to jail. He’s had people die on him. He’s lived a fucking life… You sense that power. Everything in those scenes, the sexuality, the power, his aphrodisiac force… is him. I don’t think those girls were acting… They all knew who he was and they were all dying to do the scenes with him. What’s the difference between a prostitute and an actor?” For his part Depardieu says, “I don’t ask questions. I go for it. I’m almost a porn star!”
You can’t imagine any other performer having the lack of vanity and, quite literally, naked ambition required to play the part of such a disgustingly powerful, yet delusional, man. Tellingly, when his wife (played by the brilliant Jacqueline Bissett) bails him out of prison Devereaux is unrepentant, claiming he was set up and blaming his predicament on his addiction: “I didn’t fuck the maid but they fucked me!”
It’s no sugar coated redemption tale aiming to entertain but a journey into the shadows with one of cinema’s finest veteran actors.