Friday, April 3, 2015

Movie Review: Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York
Directed by: Abel Ferrara.
Written by: Abel Ferrara & Christ Zois.
Starring: Gérard Depardieu (Devereaux), Jacqueline Bisset (Simone), Marie Mouté (Sophie Devereaux), Pamela Afesi (Maid), Drena De Niro (Executive Assistant), Amy Ferguson (Renee), Paul Calderon (Pierre), Paul Hipp (Guy), Ronald Guttman (Roullot), Anh Duong (Livia), Natasha Romanova (Russian Yelena), Anna Lakomy (Anna), Shanyn Leigh (Female Journalist), Lucy Campbell (Roxanne), Raquel Nave (Russian Desiree), JD Taylor (Josh), Emmanuelle Vill (Emmanuelle).

Note: This review is based on the original 125 minute cut – not the 108 minute cut released in America. See the note at the bottom of the review for more information.

The brief opening scene of Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York shows its main character, Devereaux (Gerard Depardieu) in an interview – where he is articulate and intelligent, talking about politics. It’s really the last time for about an hour he has anything intelligent to say – or really anything save from some grunts and a few shouted “Do you know who I ams” – directed at various people. From that brief opening, we move to a scene of Devereaux in his office, when his security chief walks in and tells him about his trip back to France – and what will happen there. Devereaux doesn’t care – apart from him and his security chief, the rest of the people in the room are attractive, young women – who are all over Devereaux. They offer the security chief a blowjob, which he politely refuses, although they don’t listen. From there, we see Devereaux walking into a fancy New York hotel – converse politely with the staff, and then head upstairs to his room. Already there are two other men, and three, young attractive women. Devereaux will engage in forceful sex with one of these women, then the party retires for a cocktail of “whiskey, ice cream and Cialis” – and more sex. Eventually, everyone else leaves, walking off into the night, and Devereaux collapses onto his bed like a beached whale. But he isn’t alone for long – soon two new young prostitutes arrive, and he’s back at it again.

It’s almost become a cliché for critics to say that any movie with a lot of sex in it “isn’t really sexy” – sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it’s not. But it definitely isn’t true in Welcome to New York. The sex scenes are disturbing for any number of reasons like the animalistic grunts of Depardieu emits throughout. But mainly, they are disturbing because Devereaux never even sees the various women as people at all – merely as sexual playthings there for his own gratification and amusement. The first sex scene in particular – with the rough oral sex – is downright disturbing, particularly the way that director Abel Ferrara never turns away from it. It just goes on and on and on. Eventually Devereaux’s view of women merely as servants to his sexual desires will get him in trouble – the night after the debauched party, an African maid comes in to clean up – and although he clearly doesn’t want his advances, he advances anyway (his defense of his actions in this scene late in the film is horrific). A complaint is filed, he’s pulled off a plane, and arrested and processed – the various police officers, prison guards and fellow inmates don’t know who he is, and don’t care. If he saw women as merely pieces of meat in the first half hour of the film, everyone sees him the same way for the next half hour.

The film takes a turn at the hour mark into its second half, which isn’t nearly as effective as its first. The first hour of the movie is almost all visual – there is not a lot of dialogue spoken, and even what is, isn’t all that important, save for a crude scene with Devereaux, his daughter and her new boyfriend. It’s here that the movie makes it best points – and drawing the line between how Devereaux treats women, and how he is in turn treated by the criminal justice system. Both are chilly and impersonal – neither cares about the people themselves, just what they need to do. Depardieu has always been a good actor, but it’s been a while since he has been this good. His performance in the first hour is all physical – and it’s brilliant.

The second half of the film doesn’t work as well – even though it contains some of the best acting I’ve seen out of Jacqueline Bissett in years. She plays Devereaux’s wife – the heiress of a wealthy family, who has grand ambitions for her husband. Already the head of the IMF, he was well on his way to becoming the President of France – but this scandal permanently derails those plans. She is privately humiliated, while maintaining the supportive demeanor in public. The scenes between Depardieu and Bissett are the highlight of the second half of the film – as they rip into each other, with hurt feelings and mockery (he tries to blame the whole thing on his sex addiction, which, of course, he cannot control – she isn’t buying it).

The rest of the second hour doesn’t work as well. We see another few younger women enter Devereaux’s life and bedroom, one willingly, one definitely not, who once again he refuses to see as people. We already got that in the first hour. And Devereaux’s pretentious ranting to himself – about how idealism turned to cynicism and how he hates the world simply underlines and makes explicit ideas that were already made – more effectively before. The second hour of the film, to be honest, is more than a little bit of a slog.

Co-written and directed by Abel Ferrara, the director has found the material he is best suited for – and has made the best film of his since his early 1990s heyday (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral and the grossly underappreciated Body Snatchers). Ferrara has always been drawn to dark, lurid subject matter – and at his best, he deftly walks the line between art and sleaze. He is one of the few directors you would want making this thinly veiled Dominique Strauss-Kahn movie, about the real life scandal that ended the political career of one of France’s rising stars. Welcome to New York is not a pleasant experience to say the least – in fact, for the most part it’s downright repellant (as it should be). And yes, the film drags at times, and probably could have used a little bit more judicious editing (but by Ferrara, not without him). Still, Welcome to New York is not an easy movie to forget or shake off. That’s the first time in many years I can honestly say that about a Ferrara film.

Note: This film has been subject to much controversy between director Abel Ferrara, and IFC, the distributer in America, and Wild Bunch, the European studio who funded the film. For release in America, Ferrara’s 125 minute film was cut to 108 minutes in order to secure a R Rating– and he’s none too happy about that. Most of the reviews I have read – from the one on to the one on The Dissolve, say that they reviewed the 108 version, and that the 125 minute version was “unavailable” to them – as the 108 version is the only one going to theaters and On Demand. Oddly, I rented the film off iTunes Canada this past weekend – and they had the 125 minute version. I am not sure, but this looks like one of those rare cases where Canada actually gets something better that our American counterparts. Rejoice fellow Canadians, and remember this the next time we have to wait nearly 6 months longer than Americans to see a film like The Babadook.

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