Did Dominique Strauss-Kahn host an epic sex party the night before a chambermaid accused him of raping her at a New York hotel? Did he, years ago, attempt to rape a journalist who'd come to interview him? Did he actually rape the chambermaid at said New York hotel?
In real life, these are questions to which there are no definitive answers. Not so in Abel Ferrara's new movie "Welcome to New York," in which Gerard Depardieu stars as the man who is DSK in all but name and in which all of these events are presented as unquestionably having taken place.
Many fact-based stories, of course, embellish or invent scenes. But they tend to do so to enhance the drama or make character points; they rarely take major ambiguities from the record and present them as undeniable fact, particularly when those ambiguities are so charged. (Well, okay, there's Oliver Stone.) This film goes right to the heart of the big open questions in the infamous 2011 case and returns with a clear-cut version of events.
Ferrara looks to wriggle out of this somewhat snug ethical noose by calling the Strauss-Kahn character "Devereaux" as well as by offering a lengthy title-card disclaimer that, though it acknowledges the film takes inspiration from real-life events, also calls the movie that follows "entirely fictional"--an explanation about as useful as someone telling you the knife they're about to cut you with has just been given a new name.
Told in a mix of English and French, "Welcome to New York" premiered Saturday night in the town of Cannes at the same time as its namesake film festival but is not officially part of any program; French sales company and distributor Wild Bunch and its partners simply rented out several screening spaces on one of the most popular nights at the annual film gathering.
(In an unusual move for France, which has been slow to embrace VOD, the movie also premiered on both cable and digital platforms simultaneously with the screening, as Wild Bunch hopes interest in the DSK affair will drive rentals. The movie will be released later this year in the U.S. by IFC.)
As scripted by Chris Zois, the entire first half hour of the film is spent chronicling the events the night before the fateful encounter with the chambermaid. Devereaux, in all his naked corpulence, has an alcohol-infused sex party at his hotel with several prostitutes while some male compatriots also participate--then after all that's done has two more prostitutes over for what is essentially a sex party afterparty. All the while he says things like "yes" and "suck" but little else, letting various body parts do the talking.
The bacchanal then culminates in what's presented as a clear case of rape when a chambermaid comes to clean the room the next day.
From there the movie takes a more tick-tock approach, following the main character's arrest, prosecution and, of course, the fraught relationship between him and his then-wife ( in real life she is named Anne Sinclair, here she is named Simone and played by Jacqueline Bisset). Depardieu's character is presented as a man with voracious appetites and the connections and power to satisfy them, though any hint of the credentials that lent him that power goes unmentioned. Indeed, the character Depardieu is portraying, though the actor inhabits it with gusto, is little more than a cartoonish glutton. He just happens to be someone who's made (presumably) more interesting because you know his real-life back story.
Not much else is (er) fleshed out, though Depardieu does have a long voiceover monologue at the end in which he lays out his philosophy with lines like "Wise men are comforted by their limitations; I'm overwhelmed by this revelation."
Left similarly murky is why Simone is sp enamored of this repulsive man that she is willing to stand by him through it all in the interest of redeeming him. Bisset disagreed at the news conference when a reporter asked her about it, but there's not much evidence of an emotional foundation that would make someone willing to go through all that.
Oh, and also, there's the strong suggestion that Simone bribed law-enforcement figures to make the case go away.
In a press conference after the screening, Ferrera, the tough-as-Bronx filmmaker behind "Bad Lieutenant" and "King of New York," wouldn't offer the moral or creative rationale that led him to some of these choices, particularly the first half hour of hedonism that, if it really happened that way, should immediately earn DSK the sobriquet 'The Wolf of the IMF.'
"We played the scenes. Those are the scenes. It's not a choice. I'm not making choices," he said to a question about those first sections, adding, "The film happens in front of the camera."
But he did seem to play down the idea that he had taken significant liberties when he referred to the movie as a "hybrid documentary."
Depardieu tossed in his own belief that they were basically working off the facts when he said the extended scenes at the top of the film were "not porno. It's just [a] true story."
None of this is to condone DSK's alleged actions, of course, nor make anything close to an argument for his moral character. But whatever one's feelings about the polarizing figure, there's a bit of a difference between forming a personal opinion based on available evidence and making and distributing a movie asserting ironclad conclusions.
Lawyers for DSK have taken no action as yet, and producers at the presser said they would actually invite a lawsuit since it would bring more publicity. Maybe so. But if there's one thing the DSK case taught us, the very fact of more publicity doesn't mean it can or will bring you more sympathy.