Idiosyncratic filmmaker Abel Ferrara ("Bad Lieutenant," "The Funeral") takes on the provocative 2011 case of former International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the barely veiled drama "Welcome to New York." This frank, unruly look at sex, privilege and power unfolds so much like real life that it proves an intriguing and strangely immersive experience.
Gérard Depardieu, in one of the most uninhibited recent screen appearances by any notable actor, plays George Devereaux, a super-rich, sex-addicted financier — and prospective president of France — whose appetites are as outsized as his waistline.
One night, after partying with hookers in his Manhattan hotel suite, Devereaux sexually assaults a terrified housekeeper (Pamela Afesi). This leads to a near-immediate arrest and humiliating police proceedings (fair warning, you'll witness the rotund Depardieu undergoing a strip search), and the banker is sentenced to house arrest.
Meanwhile, Deveraux's ambitious wife, Simone (Jacqueline Bisset, excellent), flies in from Paris to help attend to her husband's mess, and she rents the $60,000-a-month townhouse in which they'll live as he awaits trial. (In reality, charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped, but a civil suit resulted in a payout to the housekeeper.)
Ferrara, who co-wrote the often free-form script with Chris Zois, is at his best here capturing the fraught, complex dynamic between the shrewd Simone and the unapologetic George. Their raw moments together, enhanced by the fearless work of Depardieu and Bisset, are riveting.
Untidy shooting and editing, naturalistic lighting, plus the use of actual individuals and locations from Strauss-Kahn's 2011 New York days add to the movie's you-are-there vibe.
"Welcome to New York"
MPAA rating: R for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, rape, language.
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. In English and French with subtitles.
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.