The films of Abel Ferrara are a bit of a challenge it must be said: aggressively confrontational and fascinated by the sordid depredations of fleshy corporeality. I haven’t seen his Bad Lieutenant (1993) for years, but this new film feels of a piece, being about a corrupt (and corrupted) public official, unafraid to let it all hang out and to flirt with a sense of quotidian ennui. On the first point, there’s the ageing Gérard Depardieu playing Georges Devereaux, a French bureaucrat heading an international financial organisation in New York, a man whose carnal tastes are pursued not only behind hotel room doors, but even in his office (after the credits, the film gets straight into a rather awkward business meeting). On the second point is the way all this is presented, at length and with the camera often uncomfortably close-in to proceedings — lengthy (and rather tedious) orgy scenes kick things off, but later, after Devereaux’s predictable fall from grace, there are similarly lengthy procedural scenes following him through the justice system to home imprisonment.
The story is a thinly-veiled rendering of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn abuse case (he was alleged to have sexually assaulted a hotel maid, but was never convicted). The film, though, maintains a self-conscious charade of fiction with habitual playful references to its own constructedness (a pre-credits sequence of Depardieu being interviewed about the role, and occasional breaking of the fourth wall by having him address the camera directly). All this is necessary because the character of Devereaux is never presented as anything less than fully culpable for his actions. The film thus becomes a character study of a bitterly pathetic man, one apparently at war with himself and with those around him. Following his arrest, his New York-born wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset) enters the fray, a woman with the self-interested ambitions her husband lacks, and very unwilling to continue putting up with his behaviour. Like much of Ferrara’s work, it feels a bit like car-crash cinema at times: a film about repellent people presented in an at-times rather sleazy way, and yet it’s fascinating.
Director Abel Ferrara; Writers Ferrara and Christ Zois; Cinematographer Ken Kelsch; Starring Gérard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset; Length 125 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Soho, London, Sunday 10 August 2014.