August 7, 2014 3:19 pm

Welcome to New York – film review

Gérard Depardieu stars in a masterfully filmed study of rampaging appetites

Gérard Depardieu plays a man of great appetites in 'Welcome to New York'

Fig leaves come no skimpier than the disclaimer that opens Welcome to New York. This, we are assured, is fiction. Sadly, we can only imagine the face of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on reading it. Oh well, his threat of legal action will have to do, presumably prompted by the rest of this scabrous film, made after the 2011 charge of sexual assault that led to his downfall as head of the IMF before the case was dismissed.

But no lawsuit has stopped us from meeting financier George Devereaux. He is played by Gérard Depardieu, a casting choice less astute than inescapable. If DSK were a model, the two men even share a taste in bolt-holes, Depardieu now a Russian citizen in pique at French tax rates, Strauss-Kahn collecting board memberships in Moscow.

On screen, Depardieu certainly looks to have digested another man not just spiritually, but physically. His performance is in every sense huge and naked, the film dominated by his vast presence and a character whose bulk screams of uncontrolled urges. We learn to what extent in Manhattan’s Carlton Hotel, the scene of a first-act bacchanal. Sizing up call girls, Devereaux beams – the start of a long, insatiable night that might pass for porn were it not for the giant French actor wheezing before us. “I am not the spring chicken,” he gasps between couplings.

Then, at dawn, comes an attack on a woman only there to clean the room. A different ugly from before, it jars us, stuns us. But it doesn’t jar Devereaux. He doesn’t see the problem. Arrested, he is stripped again, this time by guards. Yet for all the flesh, it’s the eyes that haunt you – pricks of angry bafflement that sour into petulance while awaiting trial in a SoHo townhouse. (The rent is paid by his wife, a skittish Jacqueline Bisset.)

The result deserves note for more than the scale of its leading man. Tawdry, yes, scandalous, it’s true – but director Abel Ferrara has also made a stark X-ray of addiction and privilege. Finance is Devereaux’s ticket, but his thrill is power. “Do you know who I am?” he asks, since the people he meets always do, and nothing is too much trouble because of it.

At one point, la bête stares into the camera, as if to ask bluntly what we’re looking at. By then, you may have lost track of whether the answer is Devereaux or Depardieu. Rather than actor vanishing into character, here the two commingle, the star’s raddled persona left in full view, like the pipes and ducts of the Pompidou Centre.

Another veteran wild man, Ferrara excels. The surface might seem chaotic, but beneath is structural precision. Shot with a maestro’s skillset, Welcome to New York is worth it for the light show alone, Manhattan awash in morning gold, infernal red, inky small-hours blue. The editorial is just as graceful. While Depardieu rants, the camera finds the people who can’t be heard over his self-pity – maids, prisoners, even Gauguin’s “Woman Holding a Fruit”. Gazing out impassively, she claims her moment in a weird and wayward film, touched by brilliance.

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