Monday, March 23, 2015

WELCOME TO NEW YORK: Abel Ferrara's puddle-deep look at the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair

Dem mighty jus' keep on fallin'! From Gary Hart to Sheldon Silver -- and, oh, so many in between -- the supposedly powerful figures of the western world discover their own feet of clay, as the rest of us rejoice as much in their fall as we appeared to do in their rise. Certainly one of the more interesting of these figures is Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the fellow who was appar-ently being groomed as the next leader of France, scheduled by the French "left" to take over after Sarkozy's upcoming ouster. Well, that didn't happen.

Why it didn't happen has been much conjectured upon, with very interesting and not so unlikely theories ranging from a set-up job by the opposing party (or maybe someone within Strauss-Kahn's own, or even the good 'ol USA) to the fellow's rather obvious proclivity for sodden misbehavior. In his new movie WELCOME TO NEW YORK, filmmaker Abel Ferrara (shown at right), while giving a nod here and there to economics, politics and social unrest, is really most interested in the "sex addiction" theory associated with our famous Frenchman, along with its accom-panying guilt and shame. Given Ferrara's oeuvre and obsessions, this is not surprising. What is, however, is how much of a major shrug his movie turns out to be.

Starring two well-chosen, senior-citizen movie-stars of talent and acclaim -- Gérard Depardieu (above, right, and below) as Strauss-Kahn (here called by the name of Deveraux) and Jacqueline Bisset (above, left) as his wife -- the film takes on immediate interest, if only for its smart casting. Beyond this, however, while not unwatchable, Welcome to New York grows tiresome well before it concludes.

As director, Ferrara, knows his way around camera-work and pacing, but as co-screenwriter (with Christ Zois, who often works with the director), he is never on particularly secure ground. Much of the dialog, though well delivered via its actors, sounds barely a cut above improvisation -- or the kind of expected blend of research and cliché that never probes deeper than surface level.

Further, Ferrara has decided not to stick all that closely to even what we know about the case itself. The film opens with Depardieu (as himself) explaining to the press something about how he tackles this role, and there is the usual disclaimer assuring us that, while the movie takes off from the famous case, what we're going to see is mostly made-up drama.

Consequently, the made-up maid supposedly attacked by Strauss-Kahn, looks little like the attractive and sexy real woman in the case. Nothing is made of anything politically, either (a shame, really, because there is enough juicy and oddball occurrences in this story to have made a nifty little paranoid thriller), and only a small bone is tossed to the idea of the entitled vs the underlings (above).

So what we are left with, mostly, is sex and more sex, after which, our boy having been caught out, we get the residual guilt and shame. All this has its interest for awhile until longueurs set in, and the little detail we get about the Strauss-Kahn marriage barely suffices.

Ms Bisset proves a strong presence against M. Depardieu's bulk and talent, and I must admit that it was a welcome change to see this actor having to portray, as above and below, a broken man for a change. His time under arrest, in jail, and being harassed by the press goes a distance in helping us sympathize with the guy -- which Ferrara clearly wants us to do.

Entitlement, money, power and the accompanying sex-and-more-sex to which these lead, followed of course by debasement  -- this is what interests the filmmaker most. And while all this is surely part of the Strauss-Kahn scandal, there's so much more here that his movie doesn't begin to approach.  If half a loaf is enough, by all means, crack off a chunk and chew awhile. It's initially tasty but not very nourishing.

Welcome to New York -- from Sundance Selects/IFC Films and running a too-long, two-hours-and-five-minutes -- opens this Friday, March 27, at San Francisco's Roxie Theater. Simultaneously, you'll also be able to see the film via VOD in most major markets. A further, if limited, theatrical rollout is expected over the weeks to come. Or not (See below).


Addendum: Now that is has come to the fore that filmmaker Ferrara is very displeased with re-cut version released by the distributor, perhaps the above review is not indicative of the "real" movie. Though from what I could gather from the report in The New York Times, Ferrara's reasons given do not sound, to my mind, as if they would make the movie much better. Read the Times story here, then make your own judgment. In any case, I found it very odd that IFC was suddenly not opening the film theatrically in either NYC or L.A. Now we know why.

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