“I hate politicians,” Gérard Depardieu, out of character, tells a room of reporters at the start of Welcome to New York, before explaining why he’s playing a barely veiled caricature of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as a way to make such a character compelling to an audience while entertaining himself by secretly mocking his subject. Yet within minutes of stepping back into frame as Devereaux, the film’s Strauss-Kahn avatar, Depardieu drops any pretense of hiding his disdain for the man, using his girth, his guttural voice, everything at his disposal, to paint his wealthy, privileged character as the living embodiment of greed. The politician and economist he plays has just enough good graces to exchange palm-greasing pleasantries with the hotel concierges and airline staff he sees during his regular travel before he arrives to lavish suites pre-stocked with escorts, whom he ravages in agonizingly long takes that place direct focus on his porcine grunts and aggressive but clumsy thrusts.
Those vulgar shots only exist in Abel Ferrara’s intended cut of the film, not the R-rated edit offered in U.S. theaters and now home video. Nearly all of the changes occur in the film’s first half, removing all but the most teasing glimpses of female nudity and, crucially, all of Depardieu’s self-effacing skin. The omissions have thematic consequences as much as structural ones. Carl Jung wrote, “In general, it is the non-psychological novel that offers the richest opportunities for psychological elucidation,” and this has often proved true for Ferrara’s films, which explicate their characters through their direct, usually grotesque, actions. In Welcome to New York, the ease of visual transition between scenes of consensual sex with escorts and the violation of a hotel maid (Pamela Afesi) reveal Devereaux’s callous, solipsistic inability to distinguish between two radically different kinds of service worker. It’s through the scenes of Deveraux’s most depraved behavior that one gets a full view of his entire outlook on the world from the position of a man who can buy anything.
These alterations also disrupt the flow of the film, which originally played as a redux summary of Ferrara’s entire career, moving from a softcore beginning to a crime procedural before settling on a chamber drama that uses Cassavetesian exaggeration to reveal subtle emotional truths. The removal of Devereaux’s most unpleasant displays of domineering confidence also obliterates the audience’s visual understanding of his financial power. This, in turn, undermines the humor and full depth of Devereaux’s reaction to his arrest; it’s neither outrage nor fear, but utter bewilderment that anyone would dare to detain him. The man’s firmly, but politely, expressed irritation unnerves everyone who deals with his incarceration, from the correctional officers who book him to black cellmates whose initial gestures of menace fade into stunned confusion that this old, white man doesn’t see them as threats and instead like window dressing. The latter detail is part of a subtle thread mostly maintained in the theatrical version, a recurring contrast of Devereaux’s unrepentant monstrosity and ability to buy himself out of trouble with lingering glimpses at the people of color, both perps and victims, who don’t enjoy an ounce of the same privilege.
Nonetheless, even the butchered version amply showcases Ferrara’s unpredictable stylistic shifts and the fraught tensions between actors. Jacqueline Bisset, as Devereaux’s wife, Simone, arguably steals the movie, countering the public image of the spouse who stands by her scandalized man by privately raging that he’s ruined the presidential campaign she outlined for him. Simone complicates the film’s otherwise straightforward depiction of masculine abuses of power by revealing her own ambitions that she attempts to actualize through him. The couple’s vicious squabbles generate more suspense than the foregone conclusion of his acquittal, with her excoriating him not for being a potential rapist, but for jeopardizing both of the careers, and Devereaux responding with antagonistic allusions to her wealthy family’s possible wartime collaboration.
As the dust settles over their blow-up, the film enters a final, graceful period, in which Devereaux roams the couple’s huge townhouse, which seems small now that the ankle-monitored suspect cannot leave it. He soliloquizes about growing up an idealistic leftist before becoming a ruthless businessman, the implication being that in capitalism, as in any religion, there’s no believer like a convert. Even at his lowest, however, the economist knows this is merely a setback. The film ends with Depardieu staring directly into the camera, a somewhat precious recapitulation of the self-reflexive opening scene, but it’s also a final demonstration of Devereaux’s too-big-to-fail wealth; he’s so uninhibited that even he can violate rules of diegesis without worry of consequence.
MPI’s Blu-ray transfers the film’s digital image without any errors or artifacts. Deep black levels preserve the chiaroscuro of the film’s seedy first half, while the crisp metallic tones of day-lit scenes embody Devereaux’s shock at being indicted. Even the usual drawbacks of cheap digital video—unnatural sharpness, flat detail—cannot be seen in this transfer, which instead maximizes the rough beauty of the compositions. A lossless 5.1 track doesn’t get much of a workout, with most of the film’s dialogue-heavy soundtrack mixed in the front channel. But that, too, works to the film’s thematic favor, emphasizing that, despite the claustrophobic conditions of Devereaux’s life, he never feels surrounded or overwhelmed.
Only the film’s theatrical trailer.
Welcome to New York is one of the cornerstones of Abel Ferrara’s late-career rejuvenation, but the exclusion of the director’s true cut leaves only a creatively and thematically stunted bastard child. Perhaps it is appropriate that, for now, the only way for U.S. cinephiles to see the intended version of this anti-capitalist, mirthless farce is, as Ferrara himself encourages, to illegally download it.