Arts, Culture & Media

Cannes is buzzing over Gerard Depardieu's performance in 'Welcome to New York'

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Credit: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Actor Gerard Depardieu stars in a new film that is the talk of the Cannes Film Festival.

The Cannes International Film Festival is be wrapping up this weekend, but movie buffs around the world will continue to dissect what wass hot — and what was not.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

One film sure to be debated is Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York,” starring Gerard Depardieu as a thinly-veiled Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The French politician and former head of the IMF was accused of sexually assaulting a housekeeper in a New York City hotel. Perhaps because of its ripped-from-the-headlines nature, it was popular with festival attendees.

“It was the hottest ticket in town for the night that it played,” said Xan Brooks. Brooks is a film critic for The Guardian and he was able to snag a ticket to see the film that evening.

It was an extraordinary film and extraordinary performance by Depardieu, Brooks said.

Officially, the film is not about Dominique Strauss-Kahn but inspired by the case in which the French politician assaulted a maid in his New York hotel room. Ferrara named his main character, calling him Mr. Devereaux. Still, according to Brooks, the rest of the plot seems very much lifted from the papers.

Ferrara likes to push the envelope.

“Here he kind of pushes it over the table, under the door and out into the garden and really clears the stage for a startling performance from Depardieu,” Brooks said.

In one particularly memorable scene, a strip search, Depardieu allows Ferrara’s camera to film him naked. Depardieu is 65 and overweight — and the scene goes on for about 10 minutes.

“I don’t know if this is a great film, but we watched it all with our jaws dropped open,” said Brooks.

Some have called the film a total flop — which Brooks can understand.

“The problem that Ferrara has is that he’s making a film about an alleged sexual assault, and yet he plays it as a kind of debased, trashy pantomime. And there’s a sense that he’s inviting us to laugh," Brooks said, “but then when it tips over to [the character Devereaux] molesting women, is Ferrara saying this is funny too? And that is a real issue that I think anyone will have to weigh up when watching this film.”

Another element complicating the film is Depardieu portraying himself. The film opens with a staged-interview where he's he’s asked why he took on the role. Depardieu says he took the role because he hates politics and politicians. Yet, he himself has been seen cozying up with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

His performance in that interview begs the question about who the film actually about?

“We know him as a virile star of French cinema and he’s now a hulking wreck, railing against what he sees as big government, fleeing French tax laws. He’s cozying up to Putin, he’s a newly minted Russian citizen,” Brooks pointed out. “So as we’re watching, are we thinking this is a portrait of Strauss-Kahn’s fall from grace, or are we thinking this actually about Depardieu’s fall from grace as well?”

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