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Mo Money Mo Problems

Nicole Rivelli/Vértigo Films

Welcome to New York (2014)

The pre-emptive disclaimer opening Abel Ferrara's "Welcome to New York" urges that no one interpret the film as commenting on any real-life events in particular; but its lines are so far apart that reading between them and detecting the name of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is taken for granted. Duly primed, the audience is then dealt a disorientating conversation between Gérard Depardieu and three rapt listeners, in which he gnomically ponders why he, the actor, took the part. "I'm an anarchist," he growls. "I don't like politicians. I hate them. I prefer acting where I don't like the guy." Then you notice that one of the folks paying rapt attention is Shanyn Leigh: a Ferrara regular, memorable in "4:44 Last Day on Earth," a face in "Go Go Tales." She's billed as female journalist. What is going on? Are they holding an acting seminar? Is Mr. Ferrara making a point about life and performance being a hair's breadth apart? The cloying fakery of the rich and shameless? Or just a way to hang the audience by the heels? Ninety seconds in, and it's straight down the rabbit hole.

Devereaux (Mr. Depardieu), the film's powerful French banker — like much else about the character, his exact profession is an assumption — is an ogre, a molester of women, a sociopath. In a business meeting, he urges his equally middle-aged male visitor to accept oral sex from one of the many willing younger ladies in his office in much the same way as he would proffer a thin mint. (Teams of fashion-plate escorts orbit the film; arriving, stripping and departing in shifts.) Cartoonish orgies of braying fools and loveless dissolute couplings — all consensual — occupy much of the early running time, during which nearly all of the screen itself is occupied by a naked Mr. Depardieu. The actor's bulk makes the crucial moment when Devereaux emerges from a hotel shower and forces himself on a passing maid feel like an elephant rolling onto a walnut. Once the cops are involved the film shifts gears, flaying the character through an hour or so of semi-improvised and thoroughly believable shouting matches between Devereaux; his wife, Simone (Jacqueline Bisset, terrific); his daughter, Sophie (Marie Mouté) and the cruel uncaring gods above him.

They don't respond; and who can blame them. The nearest Devereaux comes to self-analysis is to admit to sex addiction, but Mr. Ferrara's point is about men whose role in the world does not require a moral center or recognition of the deficiency. With the maid affair still unresolved, Deveraux has a consensual, almost caring, liaison with one woman and then violently assaults the next — none other than the female journalist played by Ms. Leigh again, this time definitively in character. The film is a Möbius strip of dysfunction, the story of a helpless male ego desperately looking for someone to confess to. It could hardly be more of an Abel Ferrara film. And it doesn't even blame money particularly, since Deveraux's job and interaction with the financial world are only obliquely addressed. Instead the blame is evenly spread about. We made the world and the world made Deveraux; a point he himself addresses by pausing during one argument with his daughter to tell the cinema audience to fuck off.


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