• Sun. Sep 26th, 2021

Cannes cannes column: my name on the buttocks of strangers.


Jun 9, 2021

The production company screens "Welcome to New York," Abel Ferrara’s adaptation of the Strauss-Kahn case that was spurned by the festival. An uneasy film.

In jail: Gerard Depardieu as Mr. Deveraux. Image: dpa

Before the selection was even announced, people speculated that "Welcome to New York" by Abel Ferrara would certainly be there. An important, if erratic director, a relevant subject – the film is about how a powerful man named Devereaux sexually harasses a hotel employee in New York, is imprisoned and has to stand trial, plus a famous actor, Gerard Depardieu. But "Welcome to New York" was not among the selected films.

Then something surprising happened. Vincent Maraval of Wild Bunch, a production company that enjoys a great deal of influence in Cannes, announced that he would be showing the film on the fringes of the festival and launching it simultaneously as video on demand. Those who wish can now watch "Welcome to New York" via iTunes, for example. I was not among the journalists who were granted access to the only screening on Saturday, but a PR agency sent me a streaming link.

As a copy protection measure, a kind of watermark with my name appears in the middle of the picture when it is played – which had the strange side effect that in the first scenes, in which Devereaux celebrates a sex party with prostitutes, I was able to read my name on various buttocks every now and then.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on whose model the character of Devereaux is based, has announced that he will file a lawsuit for defamation. Anne Sinclair, who was married to Strauss-Kahn at the time of the New York events, wrote a short text on huffingtonpost.fr under the title "Degout," disgust. "Disgust at pathetic and grotesque dialogue, disgust at the way Mr. Ferrara portrays women, which probably illustrates his personal urges."

Revulsion, too, because in one scene Devereaux accuses his wife of saying her father did business with the Nazis during the occupation of Paris. In reality, Sinclair writes, her father fought for the Resistance. "The writers and producers of the film are projecting their fantasies about money and Jews."

The twisting of family history does indeed take on a disconcerting air. One might chalk it up to character speech; it is Devereaux speaking, after all, not the director. But an uneasiness remains. At the same time, one does not do justice to "Welcome to New York" if one simply finds it revolting. It’s more likely that Ferrara is looking for the very thing that triggers revulsion. Instead of glossing over it in his mise en scène, he exposes it, especially in the scenes where Devereaux gets assaultive (Depardieu’s powerful body comes in handy here).

Moreover, Ferrara has a good sense of process – how Devereaux is arrested and taken away at the airport, how he has to undress in front of the officers, how he eventually ends up in a cell with several African-American men, is remarkably accurately staged. "Welcome to New York" is an uncomfortable film, which befits its deeply uncomfortable subject.

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