Abel Ferrara and screenwriter Chris Zois’ Welcome To New York, inspired by the 2011 sex scandal surrounding former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had its world premiere here in Cannes tonight. Once thought to be a candidate for an Official Selection berth, it instead unspooled in an unofficial capacity inside a tent erected at Nikki Beach (see NSFW trailer below). Stars Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset were on hand for a post-screening press conference about the film that has made headlines ever since it was first floated as a project — and more so now due to an unconventional release plan. Depardieu plays Mr Devereaux, a man who handles billions of dollars a day, controls the economic fate of nations, and dreamed of saving the world but cannot save himself. Bisset plays his wife, Simone. The characters are inspired by Strauss-Kahn and Anne Sinclair. The former was famously alleged in May 2011 to have sexually assaulted a New York hotel employee, but charges were ultimately dropped. Sinclair is a French journalist and heiress from whom the former IMF chief is now divorced.
Although the film comes with a disclaimer at the beginning, there are clear parallels between Devereaux and Strauss-Kahn. Asked if they were concerned about lawsuits, Vincent Maraval, co-founder of production, finance and sales company Wild Bunch, said the movie was made under American law and had been well vetted by attorneys. But, he tossed out, if anyone wants to “make us publicity, they are welcome”. The movie begins with some pretty debauched sex scenes that show Devereaux partying with a coterie of men and women in a hotel suite — they are not for the faint of heart. Depardieu called the subject matter reminiscent of Shakespearian tragedy. He said he was shocked when he saw the film because some of the sex was very violent, but he tried not to pin the characters to “right or wrong.” Devereaux’s character “knows he is sick. … I didn’t want to ask too many questions.” Ferrara also said he was “not making a judgment” with the film. When he showed it to Bernardo Bertolucci recently, the veteran Italian helmer remarked it reminded him of a Warhol film. “It is what it is,” Ferrara said. For those who might consider some of the footage borderline porn, Depardieu cautioned to laughter: “It’s not porno at all. To be porno, you have to see the big dick.” Spoiler alert: There is a scene in which Depardieu’s private parts are exposed, but it’s during a strip search inside a stark prison, so not exactly sexy.
There’s been a fair amount of publicity surrounding Welcome To New York given A) its subject matter and B) its release plans. As the lights dimmed on the beach at 9 PM local, the movie simultaneously became available on several French VOD platforms including iTunes and Wild Bunch’s own FilmoTV. Due to increasingly contested regulations in France, movies can’t go out on VOD until several months after their theatrical release, so Wild Bunch is making a guinea pig out of Welcome To New York and bypassing theatrical distribution. Ideally, Maraval has said, they would have preferred to release it day-and-date in theaters and on VOD but chose instead to highlight the problems with the current laws by going VOD only. The “e-release” nevertheless is supported by a €1 million ($1.37 million) marketing campaign, replete with TV ads — which, again under French law, are banned for theatrical releases.
Welcome To New York is releasing elsewhere, however. It’s got distribution in such markets as Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK. In France, it will remain to be seen how effective the VOD release is, and whether it will have an impact on the call to rejigger the windows system, which currently ensures exhibitors and TV networks a period of exclusivity. France’s ARP, the association of authors, directors and producers, today noted its support of Wild Bunch’s efforts. “We need to be able to give ourselves the means to experiment — in particular when we’re dealing with independent auteur films — so that theaters, distributors, producers and auteurs can decide together what is the best way to show a film,” the group said. It added that it “wishes great success to Abel Ferrara’s film as well as the platforms that show it.” Here’s the trailer, again NSFW: