Abel Ferrara is no stranger to sleazy portraits of illicit monsters, King of New York and Bad Lieutenant among his most infamous. With his latest film Welcome to New York, he gives viewers the humorless and ugly version of The Wolf of Wall Street, uncomfortably close to the real thing concerning an evil human being utterly consumed by id. Loosely based on the scandal surrounding French politician Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the film stars an overweight Gerard Depardieu as Devereaux, President of a wealthy bank whose carefree debauched existence of drugs and womanizing is threatened when he is incarcerated for sexually assaulting a hotel maid. As the drama plays out in the court of public opinion with Devereaux’s lawyers negotiating house arrest, the film becomes a blistering indictment of American capitalism and the ease with which criminals guilty as sin can pay off their infractions instead of for them.
Casting the controversial veteran Depardieu as the amoral sex addict, with no bridge between his impulses and better judgment, proves crucial as imagining anyone else playing him is impossible. Much like Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant, Depardieu lets it all hang out without fear of portraying a man rife with demons. Where Marlon Brando asked Francis Ford Coppola to hide his obesity in shadow, Depardieu allows his fat protruding belly to be open for all to see in full frontal nudity. This is a man gorging himself on power and carnality with little concern for all whose lives are ruined in his wake. A powerful anchor and counterpoint to Depardieu is Jaqueline Bisset as Devereaux’s wife, trying desperately to sort out the disaster on her hands while barely able to contain her rage towards her husband for destroying her reputation by association. In a way, her scenes upstage her character’s boorish husband as she wears a straight face in public before unleashing her fury on Devereaux behind closed doors.
Undoubtedly the subject of grudging admiration and outright derision, Welcome to New York quickly brewed a scandal in France with Strauss-Kahn’s wife threatening a lawsuit against the project, calling it “filth”. Ferrara’s, at times, cold condemnation of wealthy organized crime is far from easy viewing, both highly graphic in its drawn out scenes of Cognac and ice-cream orgies and unblinking gaze at rape. The longer we spend time with the film’s morally bereft antagonist, the less he changes or learns from his mistakes. When Jordan Belfort asks why the FBI is after him given how many more vile snakes are roaming Wall Street, he must have been thinking of Devereaux. Why view such an uncompromisingly raw take on an unrepentant monster? Welcome to New York doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t aim for us to empathize with Devereaux, but to point a spotlight on capitalist corruption in microcosm. In Deveraux’s world, crime doesn’t pay unless you have the almighty dollar on your side.