In May 2011, International Monetary Fund president Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York for sexual assault. Although the case collapsed, Strauss-Kahn’s career and marriage were in tatters, his French presidential hopes dashed. The fact that the charges were never publicly proven (the victim’s civil case was settled out of court) hasn’t stopped firebrand director Abel Ferrara from making a film about the incident and its aftermath. Although the names have been changed to protect the innocent/guilty (delete as applicable), and the film opens with a bold disclaimer claiming it’s all made up, the story is about as thinly disguised as a warthog wearing a hat. In an equally litigation-baiting gauntlet-throw, Ferrara has used many of the actual locations, not to mention bit-players (several cops and prison officials play themselves), to tell his story, which begins with a series of orgiastic sexcapades that make Eyes Wide Shut look like Brief Encounter, and gets progressively more outrageous.
Nothing in the film’s graphic sexual content or ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy, however, comes close to the outrageousness of Depardieu’s central performance, which makes even a phrase like tour de force seem inadequate and flaccid; it’s one of those larger-than-life performances – Cagney in White Heat, Pacino in Scarface, Nicholson in The Shining, Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood – that seems only to come along a couple of times a decade. Jacqueline Bisset gets a couple of terrific scenes as Deveraux’ long-suffering wife Simone (based on DSK’s socialite wife Anne Sinclair), but this is Depardieu’s film. Frequently naked, grunting and snorting like a rutting bull, he cuts an alternately porcine and bovine figure, a sex-crazed Obelix in a business suit. Recalling Harvey Keitel’s tortured cop in Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, Devereaux is an unreconstructed, unrepentant monster with no hope of, or interest in redemption, his oversized sense of entitlement matched only by his giant, hemispherical belly. It’s a fearless, heroic performance in a provocative, important film. Read as a metaphor for the excesses of money, power and accountability (or lack thereof), it makes The Wolf of Wall Street look tame by comparison.
VERDICT It may be ageing provocateur Abel Ferarra’s best film since King of New York, but the film belongs to Depardieu’s titanic performance. Like that painting of Kramer in Seinfeld, he is a loathsome offensive brute, yet you can’t look away. ★★★★