Sometimes a film comes along that is intriguing precisely because of the controversy that surrounds it. Welcome To New York is a work of fiction, but it skews very close to real life events, with obvious representation of a notable French politician as a rapist and potential sociopath. Though the character of Devereaux is not ever claimed to be a fictional equivalent of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the supposed similarities to a scandal involving the rape of a hotel maid were close enough to prompt Straus-Kahn to threaten a lawsuit for slander, all but halting the film’s theatrical distribution. And now here we have the home video release, cut down by producers to an R rating from the original NC-17 cut, a move that has prompted a lawsuit all its own.
But the real world controversy surrounding a film’s content should not be the judge of the film’s intrinsic quality. What Welcome To New York succeeds at is providing an intense character study, whether that character is representative of a real figure or not. Devereaux (Gerard Depardieu) is a disgusting human being who seems to only find solace in his ever-continuous pursuit of sex. The monogamously married politician cannot seem to keep his hands off women, and sex is obviously always at the forefront of his thoughts. However, when Devereaux sexually assaults a hotel maid, he is arrested and held for trial, though Devereaux can’t for the life of him figure out what it was he did wrong.
For a film that focuses so heavily on sex, it is quite astounding that the director so strongly resisted the urge to portray any intercourse as arousing. Devereaux’s lust is not one of hedonism, but of pure compulsion, as he grunts and moans his way to a brief and inconsequential climax every time he seduces (or hires) a woman to his bed. And yet, he can never seem to grasp the fact that the women he has sex with are people, with thoughts and feelings beyond being a repository for his semen. This is why he has such a hard time grasping how he could be arrested for forcing a woman to give him a blow job; he was only feeding his compulsion, and that excuses him of any wrongdoing even when the focus of his sexual attentions was unwilling. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a rapist and how I’m sure many other sexual predators feel about their actions.
However, the film is not perfect, and I must wonder how much of that is based on the re-edits made to bring the film down to an R rating. The sex scenes are blatantly shortened, using a lazy fade effect that seems designed for efficiency rather than artistic integrity. Furthermore, as interesting as it is to watch Devereaux bewilderedly go through the booking process for a crime he doesn’t understand, the time spent in police custody drags on to the point of becoming dull, a move that might have been due to a need to extend the film after the deletion of the sex scenes. The film ultimately feels unbalanced, and I truly don’t know where to allocate the blame for that.
Yet, despite that issue, Welcome To New York is a fascinating film that provides insight into the kind of mind that many don’t understand. Rapists are often demonized as just being depraved individuals, but rarely do we delve into their psyche to try and understand why they behave as they do. Devereaux’s actions are not excused by his compulsion, but understanding his compulsion leads us to understand him better, and understanding is how we as a society can combat rape as a chronic issue. This is a work of fiction that, whether based on reality or not, is one that reflects real world issues, and that alone makes it worth a look.