Welcome to New York: ‘Abel Ferrara ignores a rich vein of intrigue and rushes to judgement’


Special To The Japan Times

The career of Abel Ferrara is a bit of an enigma. As a director who started with gnarly exploitation flicks before moving into more philosophical tales of sin and redemption, Ferrara is barely a presence in the U.S. outside his native New York City, and he hasn’t had a hit with either critics or the public for arguably two decades. Yet somehow he keeps plugging away, consistently scoring name actors and finding champions among the ranks of critics at French film journal Cahiers du Cinema.

I find his films better on paper that on screen, with ideas and casts that are enticing — such as Willem Dafoe and Christopher Walken in an adaptation of a William Gibson short story (“New Rose Hotel”) — but which invariably lose momentum about halfway through and plod along to a series of indulgent monologues. (I suspect this is also precisely what the critics at Cahiers like about him: an indifference toward narrative drive.) However, his films all have their moments and, every now and then, Ferrara will hit one out of the park. (See “Bad Lieutenant” or “The Funeral”.)

His latest, “Welcome to New York,” is more like a choppy single where the runner just beats out the tag. Even the presence of Gerard Depardieu and a story ripped from the headlines about the sex scandal involving former IMF managing director and French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn (often referred to as DSK), could not save this flick from going straight to video-on-demand in France.

Welcome to New York (Honeytrap: Daitoryo ni Nari Sokoneta Otoko)
Director Abel Ferrara
Run Time 110 minutes
Language English, French (subtitles in Japanese)

The names have been changed, but the film has so clearly been based on the 2011 DSK scandal — where the respected IMF head was thrown into a cell by the NYPD on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid — that nobody’s going to mistake it for anything else.

Ferrara starts the film with a bang. Depardieu plays his DSK doppelganger, Deveraux, as an accident waiting to happen, engaging in repeated orgies with bevies of call girls. (And the sight of a naked, gone-to-seed and whale-like Depardieu is more than a little disturbing.)

The actual trial of DSK descended into a classic he-said, she-said battle of competing stories, with the added frisson of power and privilege brought to task by a poor immigrant woman.

Ferrara is right to cut away at the very moment the rape is about to occur, but later destroys the film’s “Rashomon”-like potential by showing the assault in full, as described by the maid. In the real world, the case was dismissed because of glaring inconsistencies in the maid’s testimony; there is about as much evidence to suggest she was smeared as there is to suggest there was a political conspiracy to take down DSK.

Ferarra ignores this rich vein of intrigue and rushes to judgment, focusing instead on the minutiae of DSK’s incarceration — mugshots, strip searches, perp walks — and the breakdown of his marriage to journalist and heiress Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), all of which paints a decent portrait of sex addiction, but not much else.