“Welcome to New York”: Meet the Bad Lieutenant of global finance

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It’s not every film that starts with its own behind-the-scenes featurette, but then, Abel Ferrara is not every filmmaker. “Welcome to New York,” out on Blu-ray this week, opens with an interview with star Gerard Depardieu explaining why he chose to portray a character based on notorious French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

But then we find out in the closing credits that the journalists in the scene are actually played by actors, further blurring the line between fiction and real life. And, if you follow movie news at all, you know that “Welcome to New York” was the flashpoint of a huge feud between Ferrara and distributor IFC when 18 minutes of the film was trimmed against Ferrara’s wishes. He issued a cease-and-desist letter referring to the “destruction of my film,” and said “Some people wear hoods and carry automatic weapons, others sit behind their desks, but the attack and attempted suppression of the rights of the individual are the same. I will defend the right of free speech till the end and I ask all who believe as I do to not support the showing of this film, on their networks, in their theaters, or wherever.”

So it’s not hugely surprising that the Blu-ray release of “Welcome to New York” doesn’t contain a director’s commentary. In fact, there’s no bonus features at all other than the trailer. But it’s hard to know what Ferrara was so upset about, because if this is the softened, defanged version of the “Bad Lieutenant” director’s film, I can’t imagine what Ferrara’s original cut was like.

This is a brutal, scathing indictment against unchecked privilege and power, and Ferrara’s naked disgust for his protagonist vibrates through every frame of the film. Ferrara finds the ideal partner in Depardieu’s brilliantly raw performance, and the result is a film that, if not meant to be enjoyed, certainly packs a wallop.

You may remember the case: Strauss-Kahn, a French economist and managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested and charged with raping a hotel maid in New York in 2011. The case was later dismissed for lack of evidence, although a French journalist came forward with a similar story.

*** FILM STILL DO NOT PURGE **** Welcome to New york Gerard Depardieu (Devereaux) in Abel Ferrara’s WELCOME TO NEW YORK. Courtesy of Nicole Rivelli. Copyright June Project, LLC. A Sundance Selects release.

*** FILM STILL DO NOT PURGE **** Welcome to New york Gerard Depardieu (Devereaux) in Abel Ferrara’s WELCOME TO NEW YORK. Courtesy of Nicole Rivelli. Copyright June Project, LLC. A Sundance Selects release.

In the film, Depardieu is Devereaux, a smooth French politician who we see nimbly navigating the corridors of power, knowing the right backs to slap and palms to grease. After a high-level meeting, Devereaux retires to his hotel suite, where he transforms into a rutting animal, ordering prostitutes two at a time. Depardieu, with his giant naked belly hanging before him, looks like an aging, insatiable bull, smearing hookers with champagne and ice cream as if all his appetites merge into one.

Of his character’s guilt, Ferrara has no doubt, and the film flashes back to the beginning of the assault on the maid. We see the powerful man brought low, fingerprinted and strip-searched by police, his arrogant bellows of “Don’t you know who I am?” falling on deaf ears. (The law enforcement in the film have the matter-of-factness of non-actors, which contributes to the disconnect between them and the regal Devereaux).

In steps Devereaux’s wife (a fearsome Jacqueline Bisset), who gets her husband placed under house arrest in an apartment that seems like a cage for him, but for which most Manhattanites would give their right arm for. As she works the levers of power to get the case thrown out, she confronts her philandering husband in a series of lacerating and seemingly improvised conversations. He is unrepentant. He is not like ordinary men, he insists, and shouldn’t have to play by their rules.

Devereaux, in the end, is as excessive and unapologetic as his cinematic biographer. Even though Ferrara detests the man, he is fascinated by him, and it’s that tension that makes “Welcome to New York” such an arresting film. Even diluted Ferrara can jangle the nerves.

 

 

 

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“Diary of a Teenage Girl”: Girl, you’ll be a woman soon

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“Diary of a Teenage Girl” opens Friday at Point Cinemas, Star Cinemas and Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:42, three and a half stars out of four.

Don’t be too fooled by the Sundance-y quirky look of the poster for Marielle Heller’s terrific film, with the protagonists sitting in front of wallpaper that Wes Anderson might have picked out for them. Although Heller’s debut does have some stylistic flourishes, this is not an exercise in style, but a refreshingly honest film, both funny and sad, about growing up female in all its messy complexity and wonder.

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“Phoenix”: Haunting post-war thriller will have you feeling Vertigo

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“Phoenix” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 1:38, three and a half stars out of four. I’ll be doing a post-shot chat after the Tuesday 7 p.m. show at Sundance Cinemas.

The title “Phoenix” may evoke images of the mythical bird rising from the ashes, but the Berlin depicted in Christian Petzold’s film is not so much rising as crawling out of the ruins, dazed and guilty. The haunting thriller looks as much at the intimate interior damage wrought upon by World War II as the physical damage.

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Instant Gratification: “Timbuktu” and four other good films on Amazon Prime and Netflix

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Pick of the week: “Timbuktu (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. A small town in Mali chafes under the ironclad rule of fundamentalist Muslims in this Oscar-nominated drama which makes both oppressors and oppressed into three-dimensional human beings.

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“No Escape”: The family that flees together stays together

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“No Escape” opens Wednesday at Point, Palace and Star Cinemas. R, 1:43, two and a half stars out of four

It was not surprising to me to learn that “No Escape” filmmakers John Erick and Drew Dowdle has made horror films up until now (“Devil,” “Quarantine”). Because, although presented as an action thriller, “No Escape” is really a horror film at heart, the Dowdles effectively using the tricks of the trade to build suspense and dread in the viewer. It’s just that, instead of a serial killer or a demon, the boogeyman this time is an entire country.

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“The Salvation”: Mads Mikkelsen saddles up for a satisfying Western

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Writer-director Kristian Levring says there are 62 different references to classic Westerns in his own oater “The Salvation.” Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay his film is that I never looked for them.

I was too busy enjoying the film, out on Blu-ray this month, which succeeds entirely on its own merits as a traditionally structured Western. Levring and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen understand what makes the genre work so well — the characterizations, the classicism of the shots, the building and violent releasing of tension.

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“Aloft”: Chilly, elliptical drama struggles to take flight

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“Aloft” is now playing at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:30, two stars out of four.

“Aloft” is a movie that throws you into the mix without much warning at the beginning, and yanks you back out at the end even more abruptly. I didn’t mind that writer-director Claudia Llosa’s film didn’t answer all of the questions that it posed. It’s just that, when it did provide an answer, it was often trite and obvious.

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