sat 13/04/2024

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Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York

Depardieu goes beyond the pale, in a blistering film inspired by Strauss-Kahn

Devereux (Gerard Depardieu) settles into his hotel room

Depardieu as an imaginary version of Dominique Strauss-Kahn was always likely to be a study in grossness. Add director and co-writer Abel Ferrara, the hardcore extremist behind Driller Killer and Bad Lieutenant, and a white-knuckle night out is guaranteed. Depardieu’s powerful French banker Devereaux is a creature of grotesque and relentless appetites, alright, a bloated sex addict and rapist.

But actor and director also insist he is human and shamelessly so, even as he sacrifices others to his desires.

There is a sense, too, that Welcome to New York is autobiography even more than biography. Depardieu’s name rhymes with his character’s. And there is a sympathy he won’t refuse to this morbidly obese man whose actions regularly pass beyond the social pale, any more than he’d deny it to the face in his mirror.

We see almost nothing of Devereaux at work during what is intended as a brief stop-over in New York. Ferrara mostly busies him with a protracted orgy, where alcohol and cocaine make the chat as authentically boring as the spectacle. These improvised longueurs are always a risk with Ferrara, part of a sensibility which kept him deep in the underground after Harvey Keitel’s other big film in the year of Bad Lieutenant, Reservoir Dogs, sent its more superficially hip director into orbit.

Salaciousness is another potential pitfall in handing him the case of a man felled by a rape accusation. Actually, there’s underlying comedy in an exhausted Devereaux finding yet more whores at his door. Not another threesome… and the knock on the door after that is the maid, who he treats the same way, with added violence when she resists. There’s a dark documentary feel to the jarring contrasts, not experienced as such by a Devereaux whose Gallic shrug at the maid’s escape shows the momentary diversion she was in his day. Depardieu throws his massive body into all this, his breathing unhealthily heavy. He honks like a hog when he comes, the acting heir to Jean Gabin dismissing any notion of dignity. He becomes a rutting pig, a monster: a man who’s never denied.

The implicit comedy and staggering self-exposure ratchet up when this elite Frenchman is dragged through the New York justice system more roughly than you suspect Strauss-Kahn was. Stripping to be searched is a doggedly slow exercise in humiliation by the jeering cops. Bending to take off his shoes looks like the most difficult thing Depardieu has ever done. His only reward is to expose the blubbery ruin of an icon, a wrecked hulk to which only Brando compares. But somehow, he doesn’t seem humiliated.

And that isn’t all. Devereaux is released to house arrest in New York, and the care of his furious wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset, pictured above right with Depardieu). After the verite stretches of physical extremity, Ferrara adds intellectual meat, as Bisset matches Depardieu jab for telling jab as they spar about what he’s done with his potential. Even now, left alone with other women, Devereaux can either be a surprisingly charming lover, or a violent rapist. The women are victims, not him. But it is a look which Depardieu gives the camera which lingers. At the end of a searing, career-reviving performance, in its largely unspoken way as confessional as Brando’s in Last Tango..., he dares you to judge him.

  • Welcome to New York is released in cinemas this Friday and on Video On Demand on Sept 1

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Welcome to New York

There is a sympathy Depardieu won’t refuse to this man whose actions pass beyond the social pale, any more than he’d deny it to the face in his mirror


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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