"The economic anarchy of capitalist society is the real source of the evil. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital, the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organised political society." - Albert Einstein
In May of 2011, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, presumptive French presidential candidate and head of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), was arrested at JFK airport following an alleged assault on a hotel housemaid. Strauss-Kahn denied violence but admitted "inappropriate" behaviour. The civil suit was later settled out of court.
Directed by Abel Ferrara, "Welcome to New York" retells this scandal. It stars Gerard Depardieu as Devereaux (a stand in for Strauss-Kahn), a corpulent corporate-type who spends his days pommelling prostitutes, engaging in casual sexism and gorging on mountains of food. Devereaux, in short, is addicted to pleasure, power and excess. Emblematic of a ruling class which abuses its privileges, exhibits insensitivity toward others and remains protectively cocooned in its ivory towers, Devereaux is shocked when his attack on a lower class black woman gets him arrested. "I have diplomatic immunity!" Devereaux cries.
Ferrara's recent films have all been about capitalism, addiction and their overlapping ills. In "Last Day on Earth" this results in ecocide, in "Go Go Tales" this results in a club owner developing gambling addictions in an attempt to "diversify" and "compete" on the market place, and in "R Xmas" a couple of upstart businessmen find their dreams of upward mobility shattered. In "Welcome to New York", we see the "cause" of such collapses and calamities. Entirely without empathy, self-knowledge, forever unable to distinguish between consecration and rape, and viewing everyone and everything as a possession or commodity, Devereaux is the product of a culture which glorifies and normalises sociopathic behaviour. "I don't have feelings," Devereaux tells a psychologist, "I don't give a s**t about the people!"
"Welcome" is divided into three clear sections. In the first, we nosedive into Devereaux life of debauchery. Here, sex and nudity are presented without a hint of titillation, and all of Devereaux's sexual rendezvous are sketched as something pathetic and hollow. The film's second section then bluntly contrasts a dehumanising prison system with Devereaux's life of privilege, whilst its third and best segment finds Devereaux consigned to house arrest. During this segment, Jacqueline Bisset steals the show as Devereaux's ex-lover.
Though well intentioned, "Welcome to New York" is mostly bad art. The film is packed with cliches, its dialogue is obvious and cringe-worthy, Ferrara's aesthetic is far too literal and the film climaxes with a hokey shot in which Devereaux looks at the camera in a moment of forced and failed profundity. Worse still is Ferrara's disinterest in embedding Devereaux's debauchery within a socio-political context. Ferrara, whose filmography is filled with films about addictions, seems interested in Devereaux only in-so-far as the man is held prisoner by his own body; consumed by consumption. The larger workings of the IMF responsible for tens of millions of deaths, wars, coups (one currently going on in the Ukraine), the arming of terrorist and far-right groups, indebting countless countries etc goes ignored. The dubious implication, as with most art which attempts some kind of economic critique, is that our system "works" if only people were a little more compassionate and a lot less greedy.
Incidentally, the IMF's "Independent Evaluation Office" has recently admitted that, quote, "the IMF's advocacy of fiscal consolidation proved to be premature for major advanced economies". In short, the IMF is attempting to portray its recent disastrous policies, which saw austerity measures and bank bailouts occurring in most First World nations, as "blunders", rather than entirely deliberate. Many of these Strutural Adjustment Programs, imposed on countries to serve the interests of creditor banks and mega-corporations, were at the time being opposed by Strauss-Kahn, then the IMF's managing director. Judging by history, in which non-compliant types (Scott Ritter, David Kelly, William Colby, Michael Connell etc) are routinely suicided, assassinated, discredited or slandered, it's possible that Strauss-Kahn was framed so as to install a more malleable director. Time will tell. Which is not to say that Strauss-Kahn isn't a giant sleaze-bag, just that he's small fry. The monster runs deep, and its always sacrificing its own priests to keep the game alive.
5/10 See Passolini's "Salo", "Eyes Wide Shut" and Ivory's "The Remains of the Day".