The 'Dominique Strauss-Kahn Movie': Really Tough on DSK

Premiering at Cannes, Welcome to New York is a satisfying fictionalized portrait, while an Italian coming-of-age story and an Yves Saint Laurent biopic are also worthwhile viewing.
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Parties and poor taste play nearly as big a role at the Cannes Film Festival as movies, anyone here will tell you. Both were on ample display Saturday night, according to a colleague who attended the soiree for Abel Ferrara's Welcome to New York—a.k.a. "the DSK movie"—following a screening organized by French distributor Wild Bunch.

I wasn't at the gathering, but the scene my source described would have been too outrageous to believe if she hadn’t shown me the photos to prove it. "Dirty sex" kits were distributed to guests. Among drink options was something called the "Viagra cocktail." Some men at the event were clad in bathrobes (a sartorial reference to Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s attire when he allegedly assaulted hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo in May 2011). Others were disguised as police officers. And in the middle of it all lay a big bed—with a sign that read "Love Hotel"—on which guests posed for pictures. I guess we should just be grateful the cocktail waitresses weren’t wearing maid costumes.

Accounts of the party, ranging from mildly amused to downright disgusted, could be heard up and down the Croisette on Sunday, largely overshadowing the film itself, which Wild Bunch, in an unusual move for a French distribution company, released on VOD and cable last night.

A compelling, ever-so-lightly fictionalized rehashing of the events that saw Strauss-Kahn go from IMF chief and French presidential hopeful to reviled figure and tabloid fodder, Welcome to New York is the most satisfying work from Ferrara in quite some time. It also gives Gérard Depardieu—better known these days for his professed love of Russia and disdain for France's tax policies—a role worthy of his talents.

Ferrara (working from a screenplay he wrote with Christ Zois) and his remarkable leading man paint DSK (or Devereaux, as he's called in the film) as a brilliant, but delusional libertine drunk on power, authority, and autonomy. There is some relatively explicit sex in Welcome to New York, and a fair bit of nudity, but the director never slips into over-the-top sensationalism; he knows he has a gripping story on his hands, and he keeps his focus.

Sex, of course, is a huge part of the DSK narrative. The movie's most provocative, dramatically resonant insight is that the politician's inability to keep his pants on and his hands to himself stems less from any pathology or compulsion than from his own stubborn worldview. In Welcome to New York, it's not that Devereaux can't control himself—it's that he won't. Abstaining from pleasure amounts, in his mind, to conforming, and why would he want to do that? 

Ferrara never justifies DSK's behavior. Indeed, the man we see in the movie is an unrepentant sexual aggressor and would-be rapist. If anything, though, the filmmaker is tougher on DSK's ex-wife Anne Sinclair, an accomplished journalist who stood by her husband during his legal woes before divorcing him once the dust settled. Sharply played by Jacqueline Bisset, "Simone," as she is called in the film, is a status-obsessed woman more upset over her dashed dreams of first ladyhood than her husband's misconduct and their crumbling marriage. Most troubling of all is Ferrara's decision to have Simone constantly talk about money, and his insistence on her attachment to Israel (when we first see her, she's being toasted at a dinner given by a pro-Israel group). Given Sinclair's background—she is Jewish, and her grandfather, renowned French art dealer Paul Rosenberg, fled the Nazis in 1940—it's a particularly nasty touch, and reeks of latent anti-Semitism and sexism.

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Jon Frosch is a film critic for FRANCE 24 based in Paris. His work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Village Voice, The Hollywood Reporter, and others.

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