Gerard Depardieu gives a blistering performance as an unrepentant, misogynistic member of the One Percent in Abel Ferrara’s no holds barred portrayal of the corruption of power and the very wide social divide between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots.’ Welcome to New York is an intense and at times difficult film to watch, but it is ultimately a fascinating portrait of a man with no regard for anything but his own gratification.
Depardieu plays Devereaux, the head of an unnamed international financial institution. During a stopover in New York, the corpulent and hedonistic man embarks on an all-nighter of booze and prostitutes. It is during this bender that he sexually assaults a maid who has come to clean his room, which leads to his arrest and possible conviction for rape, but this appears to have no impact on his conscience whatsoever.
Loosely based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case of 2011, when the now former head of the International Monetary Fund was charged (but never convicted) of sexual assault, Welcome to New York is an angry, uncompromising film showcasing the utter depravity at the heart of the upper echelons of international society. Right from the start, this uber-capitalist is shown to be an all-consuming behemoth; that which he cannot absorb outright he corrupts with the taint of his immorality. It is telling that his name sounds like a French pronunciation of ‘devour.’
Devereaux’s sexual exploits are shown in all their disgusting detail, but director Abel Ferrara does not want the audience to feel titillated or complicit in these acts. Nor does he want us to understand, he just wants our revulsion. Devereaux is guilty as hell, not just of the crime for which he is charged but of being a willing party to the centuries old history of exploitation of the masses by the elite. He feels entitled to do what he likes, when he likes, and denial of this impulse is merely a temporary inconvenience.
A character of such monumental impiety needs a larger-than-life actor to portray him, and Gerard Depardieu captures Devereaux in all his sordid glory. Depardieu literally lets it all hang out to present a man who feels nothing but a burning indifference to the world beyond his own self-gratification. Almost always stone-faced and emitting low growls when not espousing his justifications, Depardieu is an obese animal slowly lumbering through the urban savannah looking for his next conquest. The only time he really registers anything beyond complete boredom is during orgasm, and even then it is not a moment of catharsis, but the apex of a drug high. Depardieu gives it his all in essaying this monster of the modern world.
Allusions to drugs and addiction are not coincidental, either. Sex is Devereaux’s drug of choice and it becomes very clear that like most people enthralled by an addiction, he can barely think beyond where his next high is coming from. Ferrara is in familiar thematic territory here, as many of his films have revolved around addiction in one form or another (Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant for example, struggles against his inner demons and even tries to find redemption), except with Devereaux, there will be no redemption. He wouldn’t take it even if it were offered.
If there is anywhere the film falters, it is that Depardieu’s performance dominates the proceedings almost completely, which seems to give Ferrara permission to get a little lazy in other areas of the production. At times, the film feels as if it might fall apart all together, and a few threads of the narrative get a little lost along the way. As a result, some of the thematic and story beats are not hit as hard as perhaps they should have been. If Depardieu was not in almost every scene holding this film together through sheer magnitude, this might be more of an issue, but as it stands, this is a minor quibble. At times, the scattered feeling actually allows the film the flexibility it needs to contain this amazing performance of such a deplorable character.
Abel Ferrara’s movies are always confrontational, but always fascinating. His obsession with portraying unsympathetic characters rub people up the wrong way and Welcome to New York will be no exception. This is an unblinking look at a depraved individual and Ferrara does not give us any respite from his awful behaviour, so this is definitely not a film for everybody. Yet these scenes are not gratuitous, they are required to fully portray the demon that Devereaux is, and Depardieu’s electric performance is something that needs to be seen to be believed. This is uncompromising and unforgettable cinema from two of its masters.
Welcome to New York is depraved, confrontational and insidiously intriguing. Gerard Depardieu’s electric performance needs to be seen to be believed.