Abel Ferrara’s thinly veiled reconstruction of the colourful downfall of former World Bank head Dominique Strauss-Kahn after his fateful encounter with a New York chambermaid.
The Wolf Of Wall Street by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
This is Abel Ferrara’s neon-lurid vision of America, where in the opening shots of his film a version of the national anthem plays over a montage, one of whose images contrasts George Washington’s statue with a bank of gold bars.
Gérard Depardieu stuns in his performance as a rumpled, bloated ‘bad banker’, a transgressor like Ferrara’s previous Bad Lieutenant, a grunting, panting buffoon-like incarnation of the former disgraced World Bank head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Interestingly, the film starts with an interview with Depardieu out of character, justifying his choice to play the role – “I prefer acting when I don’t like…” And who could? Devereaux, his character, as presented by Ferrara, is a monster. His Washington office is portrayed as a brothel, where he gropes nubile assistants who drape themselves over him and offer blow jobs to embarrassed visiting executives.
Then Devereaux makes his fateful flight to New York, where his hotel suite is already filled with prostitutes and unidentified men partying. He immediately grabs a woman for rough oral sex, accompanied by his virtuoso grunting. When this group eventually leave, the next shift arrives for a threesome. This prolonged, excessive orgy sequence sets up Devereaux and his appetites for the pivotal scene which we know must come. Next morning, the chambermaid (an effective and affecting Pamela Afesi) innocently surprises him after his shower and there is no misunderstanding about the attack we see him make on her.
The downward spiral of his subsequent arrest, partly acted by actual NYPD officers, is brutal and realistic. All his privilege is stripped away, just as Devereaux is humiliatingly strip searched – a scene in which Depardieu reveals his astonishing overstuffed pillow of a stomach, as he squats for inspection, sacrifices his vanity and loses his dignity along with his tent-sized underpants – and is thrown bewildered into jail.
If we’ve seen the news, we know the story. After the attack, Devereaux, like Strauss-Kahn calmly has lunch with his daughter and her boyfriend, amid a flurry of sexually inappropriate remarks, the most repeated of which is “Is the fucking any good?”. His wealthy wife Simone (a taut Jacqueline Bisset) is plucked out of her charity lunch in Paris to arrive like the cavalry for damage limitation and to ease his path to release on bail. And the scenes where he is released on bail are shot in the actual house which she rented. Strangely, Ferrara chose to shoot their argument, in which she accuses him of ruining all her ambitions and he admits to being a sex addict, with dialogue improvised by them and in English, when it would have been more natural to have been in French, and it seems stilted.
As well as using real people and locations, at times Ferrara cuts in actual news footage of a press conference, and it seems like part drama documentary, part reconstruction. That is, until the final section, with his take on Devereaux on his own and in his context. Ferrara opens it out with a couple of flashbacks, one to his attack on a young French journalist who had come to interview him and another to the willing conquest of an ambitious young girl. His sessions with a psychiatrist, his lack of feelings, his soliloquy as he looks over the New York rooftops: the World Bank makes money out of poverty, money is truth and power. There is no redemption. This is the sick society in which privilege had allowed Devereaux to swim like a sexual predator, and in which he finally sinks, still with no insight into himself. His uncomprehending, self-justifying view of that incident is simply – “I just jerk on that lady, on her mouth. That’s all”. It’s a harshly coloured film, an unambiguous statement of disgust, an experiment in how far one can go in villifying a thinly veiled real person. The film’s titles give a comprehensive disclaimer and so far it seems to have worked. Though Strauss-Kahn was reported earlier this year to have been suing Ferrara for defamation, the film is defiantly on release.
Welcome To New York is released on 8th August 2014 in the UK