*. When you look at the start of Abel Ferrara’s career and films like The Driller Killer and Ms. 45, then middle work like Bad Lieutenant, and stand these alongside Welcome to New York do you see continuity? Evolution? Or only a slightly different kind of monster in a tonier NYC neighbourhood?
*. Welcome to New York tells a story torn from the headlines, being a scarcely veiled fictionalization of the Dominque Strauss-Kahn affair. I won’t go into the details, but it is worth noting that the charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped and that he threatened the film’s producers for libel. I don’t know how all that worked out.
*. But back to the monster. In this case it’s an apex predator named George Devereaux played by Gérard Depardieu (they kept Depardieu’s initials, not Strauss-Kahn’s, perhaps because Depardieu has had his own issues with rape and sexual assault allegations). Devereaux is a man of ginormous sexual appetites, nicely symbolized here by Depardieu’s gargantuan gut. You get to see all of Depardieu in this movie, including full-frontal nudity, and there is a lot to see. I mean, he’s huge. A veritable mountain of flesh. But it’s what’s inside that counts.
*. And what’s inside? Not much, and what there is isn’t pretty. Is Deveraux pursued by inner demons and addictions, like Harvey Keitel’s lieutenant? Or is he just a hungry, horny hippo in heat? We never find out, and I have to wonder if part of the problem with the role was Depardieu’s obvious difficulty and discomfort with his English lines.
*. I think the point may be however that we shouldn’t expect there to be much there. Devereaux is a balloon, his world the bubble of privilege. The word “privilege” gets thrown around a lot these days, most often attached to “male” or “white.” What it’s really all about is the power to shape and fashion one’s own reality, wherein other people are just support staff. In such a world, what’s the difference between a prostitute, a personal assistant, a cleaning lady, and a wife? None that Devereaux can imagine. When he asks the cleaning lady “Do you know who I am?” you get the feeling he could be asking his wife (Jacqueline Bisset) the same. And does even she know who he is? If she doesn’t she’s just been kidding herself. Shades of Carmela Soprano there.
*. Deveraux is no Tony Soprano though, despite puffing on a fat cigar. He doesn’t have, or isn’t given, the same intelligence or depth. This is a shame, as he might have been more interesting as a lily that had festered. The long speech he gives that shows his slide from idealistic professor to disillusioned World Bank official (“I understood the futility of struggling against this insurmountable tsunami of troubles that we face”) comes across as potted and beneath a figure of his presumed intellect. It’s barroom philosophy.
*. It never seems as though he belongs in a world that he’s apparently only married into. The film juxtaposes high and low and, but (as long as he stays quiet) Depardieu looks more at home in the New York penal system than he does in his $60,000/month rental.
*. And that may be the point. That our elites (political, financial, cultural) are really no different than the shoddy types you’d find in any big-city drunk tank or wandering the street looking to buy drugs or sex. Such figures can call themselves individualists or anarchists (as Deveraux does), but this is just casuistry. Which leads to a final question: Where does Deveraux “belong”? Not in one place or the other, but in both.
*. Stylish in Ferrara’s understated way, and with a strong performance from Depardieu to give it the necessary fleshy anchor, Welcome to New York is the sort of movie that doesn’t make a big impact but nevertheless gets under your skin. Deveraux’s conclusion that there’s no changing the world is based on his belief that people don’t want to change or be saved. Even a gentrified New York City is still a sty from top to bottom because people are pigs.