Three years ago, New York was gripped by the legal battle between then-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the woman who accused him of rape—she turned out to be the maid, who had come in to clean his room at the exclusive Sofitel Hotel. Africa is a Country wrote a ton of analysis on the case and its meanings (see here and here), countering lazy, and often racist reportage about DSK’s accuser—later identified as Nafissatou Diallo, an immigrant and asylum seeker from Guinea.
Now there’s a movie version, “Welcome to New York” directed by Abel Ferrara: Gerard Depardieu is cast in the role of the rutting, out-of-control global financier; the character is named George Devereaux in order to avoid a defamation lawsuit; although the film is explicitly “billed as a piece of fiction and comes with a legal disclaimer,” DSK has already set a defamation suit in motion, instructing lawyers to sue movie makers).
Here’s the trailer:
Critics have been underwhelmed by the film, praising Depardieu’s performance, but finding fault with Ferrara’s direction. The Independent calls the film a “gritty and grubby tale,” while Indie Wire described it as “laughable and grotesque to the extreme”. Variety called the movie “a bluntly powerful provocation that begins as a kind of tabloid melodrama and gradually evolves into a fraught study of addiction, narcissism and the lava flow of capitalist privilege”; and The Guardian’s Xan Brookes describes Devereaux as “a brutish sex addict and master of the universe” who is shown in opening scenes “slapping buttocks with abandon and climaxing like a tomcat,” and operating “a revolving door of prostitutes”; although there must be considerable pressures from his Big-Time job squeezing poor countries, he still finds “time to force himself on any passing female, be it a Guinean maid or a young journalist sent to interview him.”
Missing in the action: Nafissatous Diallo, who is simply a prop in the development of the subjectivity of the global financier and his Lady Macbeth—George Devereaux’s wife, who is only referred to as “Simone” (played by Jacqueline Bisset).
After the somewhat cheesy-yet-gritty opening group sex scenes intended to leave us with no doubt about Devereaux’s reprehensible character, the film moves on to serious business, taking on the pace of a crime-thriller: there’s the shrewd, calculating NYPD, which lures him—using the pretext of returning his lost Blackberry to him (how’s that for American service!?)—out of his first class seat on a plane bound for France and back to the airport in order to arrest him. There are also scenes that clearly champion the working stiff policeman as hero of justice, unfazed by the awesomeness of the global financier in front of him. Naked, and under the egalitarian hand of the American process of booking a prisoner, Devereaux is a drooping, decaying, fat body.
In fact, Depardieu’s naked fatness is the most praised element in all the film reviews; somehow, his heaving, unapologetic fat belly, drooping flesh forcing itself on a variety of women – including the hotel maid – is lauded as the best part of the acting. And in the scene where he is being strip searched inside the US prison, Brookes finds that “Ferrara’s camera has [Depardieu] literally exposed, like an old bull being weighed and examined ahead of the slaughter.” Xan Brooks praises Depardieu’s “mighty performance,” calling it “the best he’s been in years.” Maybe all this praise of Depardieu’s exposed body has to do with American/Western aversion to displaying the evidence of over-indulgence and excess on the body; while consumer hedonism is acceptable and in fact encouraged (think $5000 -$10,000 bags, shoes, clothes and 500,000 cars), excessive food consumption and its inevitable results on the body are meant to be erased, denied, or at least graciously hidden. Depardieu’s exposed, late middle age body, weeping from excessive consumption, thus becomes translated as a significant part of his acting methodology. It is also a vehicle for displaying the contradictions of late capitalism: there’s our desire for and praise of unchecked power on the one hand, and on the other, there’s our distaste for the slovenliness of a man who cannot contain or control his appetites. That excessive body has to be put on display in order to be examined and shamed. No wonder critics are blinded by Depardieu’s body of work.
But after all that shaming body exposure, the plot takes a twist, as did the real story of DSK and Diallo. American justice gets put in its working class place by Euro-oligarchy. Enter Devereaux’s rich wife (Jacqueline Bisset), who comes from generations of wealth. After than, we get to see some truly crazy scenes beteween Devereaux and his wife. She’s got ambitions for our jowlsey Romeo, and now he’s fucked them all up: “He’s destroyed everything I’ve worked for,” she rages like the Lady Macbeth figure on whom her character is built. Anyway, we know what happens. Rutting Romeo gets off, but loses his chances at a political career. Exit Lady Macbeth. And what of Nafissatous Diallo? We’ve no idea.
Hilariously, Cannes’ board felt that this film was too weird for its official spaces; so “Welcome to New York” was privately screened on the sidelines of the Cannes film festival over the past weekend; Geoffrey McNabb at the Independent put the best spin on it:
Rejected from the festival’s competition, the movie screened at a special gathering on the beach adjacent to the official event, projected off a laptop streaming the movie from one of the many video-on-demand platforms where it’s now available in France. Nearby, the thumping beats of beach parties constantly provided an unintentional soundtrack, but the invasive elements actually enhanced the mood. After all, this is a movie in which the seediness constantly threatens to burst off the screen.