News Column

Depardieu shines in this lurid epic

August 8, 2014

FILM WELCOME TO NEW YORK Cert 18 | By Steve Dinneen hhhhi Welcome to New York is a grotesque character study of the French head of a world bank - not to mention Presidential hopeful - who stands accused of raping a maid in a New York hotel. Director Abel Ferrara's film is certainly bold. In fact, you wonder how he got away with it: the filmmakers may have changed the name of their dubious protagonist but nobody with even a passing interest in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case could mistake the likeness. The chain of events rarely diverges from the lurid details that emerged in DSK's court case: the post-shower encounter with a Guinean hotel maid, the forgotten phone, the dramatic aeroplane arrest, the denied bail, etcetera, etcetera.

Strauss-Kahn later admitted "inappropriate" behaviour with the maid but rape charges were dropped, while a civil case was settled out of court. In Ferrara's imagined version of events, though, there is no doubt about what happened. Barely pausing for breath following a day and night of sex with various combinations of prostitutes, Devereaux (GÉrard Depardieu) sees the maid as just the latest in a production line of vessels to satisfy his sex addiction. He's rich and powerful: women are just fruit for him to snatch as he sees fit. There is no pang of remorse as the raped woman runs crying from his hotel suite, just a shrug. He seems genuinely puzzled when he's arrested.

Director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) is a master of capturing squalor, whether it's the seediness of Devereaux's animalistic sex or the institutional filth of the penal system. The camera shies away from nothing, lingering impassively on both taut, young female flesh and Depardieu's heaving, bloated form. The porny sex scenes are both graphic and dull: there's no pleasure, just an all-too fleeting release.

For the majority of the film, Devereaux's job and his wider motivations are rarely alluded to: it's a straight-up portrait of excessive consumption - both his and, implicitly, that of the western elite. The final segment, though, becomes an almost wistful, fatalistic rumination on society. Ferrara even offers Devereaux a glimmer of mitigation, aligning his moral collapse with the breakdown of his faith that socialism could one day cure the world's ills.

Depardieu's very presence adds an intriguing subtext, given his recent defection from France, over his tax affairs, to become a Russian citizen. A bizarre opening scene seems to take the form of an interview with the actor himself, while the pretty young female journalist in the front row is the same person who Devereaux attempts to rape later in the film. The disgust that leaks from Depardieu's every pore - and believe me, you see every pore - goes beyond contempt for his character: it feels like a two-fingered salute to what he sees as a corrupt ruling class, especially in his native France. "I am an actor... I am an anarchist," he growls.

Welcome to New York is far from perfect - the long running time and rambling, barely-scripted narrative make it hard work, and its propensity to always show and never tell becomes frustrating; the little insight we're given into Devereaux feels insufficient. It is, though, a visceral, memorable performance by an actor at the very top of his game, and worth seeing for that alone.

THEATRE MY NIGHT WITH REG Donmar Warehouse | By Steve Dinneen hhhhi Kevin Elyot's 1994 play charts the romantic entanglements of a group of gay university friends, now well into their 30s, set against the backdrop of the Aids crisis. It explores issues of love, loss, infidelity and insecurity, and how they are all tainted by the shadow of the disease.

The Donmar's new production is a warm, touching revival that shows the play is just as effective as an aidemÉmoire to those days as it was an immediate reaction to them.

The play is peopled by a host of stereotypes - the eternal bachelor, the owlish singleton, the working class lothario - and has more than its fair share of saucy one-liners ("I was in such a state I poured custard on my quiche") but Elyot's characters have a vitality that stops them feeling like caricatures. Apart from their undergraduate days, the thing that binds them together is Reg, a man conspicuous by his absence. Reg gets around a bit. It seems everyone has fallen in love with, or been seduced by, the elusive character.

Time elapses imperceptibly - the characters will appear to have been at the same party, until it's revealed years have passed - and with them, sadness has turned a little more to despair.

Jonathan Broadbent's Guy is the glue that holds the play together, always the host, catering to the whims of his guests while silently dealing with crippling emotional issues of his own. He is, you see, in love with John, a Hugh Grantfigure whose rogueish charm is wonderfully captured by Julian Ovenden. Daniel, Reg's long-term partner, is the final university friend, and his performance stands ahead of them all; his wicked humour is always tinged with sadness and his sadness always masked with humour. At an hour and fifty minutes (without a break) it's certainly in no hurry, and it would have benefited with being 20 minutes shorter, but the lightness of the performances is more than enough to carry you through.

FILM LILTING Cert 15 | By Melissa York hhhhi Mass migration is one of the epic stories of our time, but Lilting finds a smaller tale hidden among the great shifting of cultures. It's primarily about integration; two parents move from China to the UK with their young son so he can "have a better life". Thirty years on, the boy, Kai, has grown into a man and his mother Junn has been widowed. Kai temporarily checks her into a home for the elderly, with the intention of moving her into his house. The familyoriented matriarch is deeply hurt, accusing him of "locking her up".

The real reason is that Kai is yet to break the news that he's gay and living with his long-term partner Richard (Ben Whishaw). Before he gets the chance, Kai dies in a sudden accident and Richard is left looking after a heartbroken mother who hates this odd "friend" who got in the way of her and her son's happiness.

Junn can't speak a word of English, so much of the dialogue is subtitled or fed through Vann, a Cantonese and Mandarin speaker employed by Richard to translate. This blend of Chinese and English immerses you in a disorienting and confusing world of facial expressions and mannerisms. Junn's sudden sparks of understanding and Kai's eyes, constantly watering with frustrated grief, engage with our deepest-rooted emotions. Watching these two struggle towards a solution, when their only lifeline is the love they shared for someone they lost, makes for a universally, but quietly, moving film.

FILM GOD'S POCKET Cert 15 | By Steve Dinneen hhhhi God's Pocket is what Goodfellas might have been like had it been directed by Alexander Payne. It follows the lives of a group of ageing petty criminals as they attempt to blot out the overwhelming futility of life in a down-and-out American town through the liberal use of alcohol and violence. At the funeral of a wayward teenager a priest eulogises: "Everyone here has stolen something, or set fire to someone else's house when they were a kid... The only thing they can't forgive is not being from [the town of] God's Pocket."

John Slattery's directorial debut (he's the white-haired ad-exec from Mad Men) takes on an additional layer of poignancy, being the last film Philip Seymour Hoffman made before his heroin overdose earlier this year. He's close to his laconic best as Mickey, a chronic gambler who can't catch a break. He's a smart guy, but life has worn away his edges, and it's hard not to read some of Seymour Hoffman's own demons into those bleary eyes that are prone to wandering into the middle distance while circumstance seethes and boils around him.

The story is driven by Mickey's need to quickly raise funds to pay for the funeral of his partner Jeanie's son who has been - somewhat deservedly - bludgeoned to death. Mickey's answer is a sure thing at the bookies, which doesn't pan out, setting in motion a macabre journey for the body of the deceased (moral of the story: never argue with a funeral director). Interlaced is the story of Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), a former star newspaperman who now recycles his past columns and channels his attention diligently into his drinking habit; his facade of world-weary dignity only barely masks the inflated ego lurking beneath.

Supporting roles from British actor Eddie Marsan as the deliciously spiteful funeral director and John Turturro as Mickey's hoodwith-a-heart-of-gold pal Arthur round off an excellently bedraggled supporting cast - only Christina Hendricks feels out of place as Jeanie, a china-doll in a world where the only porcelain to be found is on the inside of a urinal.

There is, though, plenty of humour amid the squalor, all of it pitch-black. It's not a million miles in tone from John Michael McDonagh's The Guard or Calvary, although it somehow manages to surpass both in terms of its unrelenting bleakness.

The fictional God's Pocket - based on South Philly's Devil's Pocket - is painted in streaks of yellow and brown; nothing is new and nothing is clean - it's the dirty laundry America would rather you didn't see. "The youth is the hope for the future" slurs a vicious old drunk in a seedy Irish bar, and given the state of the youth in this film, that means there's little hope at all.

It's a portrait of what happens when you leave a community to rot; the kernel of depression that grows at the heart of everything, and how sometimes the only way to keep going is to flash a wry smile. It's a fitting farewell to Seymour Hoffman, one of the finest actors of his generation.

RICHARD BERNSTEIN THE MAYOR GALLERY 21 Cork Street, Mayfair, W1S 3LZ Pop art creator Andy Warhol famously predicted that everyone would experience 15 minutes of fame. But Richard Bernstein, an artist and illustrator who partied with the Studio 54 set, immortalised the rising stars of the 70s and 80s forever on the cover of Warhol's Interview magazine.

The publication was Warhol's baby, but he didn't have time to create the cover work. So he employed Bernstein to imitate his aesthetic with lurid portraits of superstars from Mick Jagger to Aretha Franklin. The original pieces are photographs retouched with charcoal and pastels.

A sense of vibrancy emanates from his subjects, who stare out of the paintings with overwhelming youth and vigour. Or as Warhol said, "He simply makes everyone look so famous." Free entry. Until 23 August Book now!

1984 at the Playhouse Theatre This multi-media production of Orwell's classic 1984 will soon come to a close. It's a kinetic, often genuinely frightning production that puts the audience in the place of protagonist Winston Smith rather than just retelling his story. Don't miss it.

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Source: City A.M. (UK)

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