Abel Ferrara has always been interested in contemporary American society, particularly the class divide of New York and the legitimacy of the so-called upper classes. His latest film Welcome to New York is a bold look at high-class low-life.
First things first, Depardieu is incredible. Here the actor gives a truly mesmerising, terrifying performance as Mr Deveroux, a man so filthy rich that the law means literally zilch. Depardieu is a thing of awesome disgrace, a foul animalistic thing, hell-bent on fulfilling his carnal desires to the tenth degree. And there’s nothing nice about that at all, Depardieu’s animalistic growl appears throughout: as he screws his way across New York, as he rapes, as he circles the other inmates of his tiny holding cell. Most worrying is Depardieu’s mini interview in the first few minutes of the film where he says he cannot play a part unless he feels that part. The point is clear, this film is blurring a boundary, pointing a finger at the infamous actor’s personal demons and recent behaviours but also those behaviours inherent to the rich and famous.
Obviously there’s a considerable amount of nudity, explicit sex with numerous prostitutes, and rape. Some people seem a bit squeamish in the face of this frankly unsettling open letter to the scourge of society, finding Ferrara’s excessive use of sexual imagery entirely meaningless. Consider Bad Lieutenant, King of New York, Driller Killer, all these films deal with men and how innately fucked up they get when granted any kind of power. Welcome to New York is the same, if a little more pessimistic, and seems pretty on-point considering recent displays of how power undermines the law.
The documentary feel of the film makes it potent as a venomous examination, Deveroux is removed from a plane to be reprimanded for raping a maid, he is caught where so many others have been able to flee, but the pessimism of the film is harboured in the fact that being caught matters nothing to these men, he even looks down the camera a few times to remind us how much he doesn’t care about our opinions.
When Devouroux tries to excuse his behaviour to his wife, blaming rape and abuse on faults of character, Ferrara isn’t excusing, he’s condemning. The naturalistic flow of conversation between Deveroux and his wife, is heart-breaking at points, the two lost in a decrepit maze of his crimes, condemned to apologise and forgive, respectively, forever it seems. Ferrara channels Roman-esque opulence into this tale of a collapsing empire, mixing it with the seediest vibes to produce this: a toxic, enraged film about the failing justice system and the behaviours such failure facilitates.
A brave and unforgiving exploration of power, wealth, and the law, Welcome to New York is gratuitous, utterly unrepentant, perhaps even exploitative, but that’s the point. Depardieu delivers a horrifying performance that must be seen.