Former IMF supremo Dominique Strauss-Kahn has injected some real-life drama into the Cannes Film Festival with his announcement that he will sue the producers of Welcome to New York, a film about an economist charged with raping a hotel maid.
The economist in the film is called Mr Devereaux and is played by Gerard Depardieu, who could hardly look less like Strauss-Kahn, but the film follows the story of his arrest, the eventual withdrawal of criminal charges and the subsequent eruption of allegations from other women almost exactly. Speaking on French radio, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer Jean Veil said his client had been left “heartbroken and terrified” by the film and went on to describe it as “a shit, a turd”. He said they would sue for defamation.
American maverick Abel Ferrara has made no secret of the fact that his film, which includes two orgy scenes featuring a strikingly naked Depardieu, and the central rape in the first 20 minutes, is based on Strauss-Kahn’s case. "I'm not on trial," he said in Cannes after the film was given a private screening to journalists. "I'm an artist. I have freedom of speech. I'm from America, I'm from the country of the free, land of the free and home of the brave."
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is not on trial either; the criminal charges were withdrawn and a civil suit settled out of court three years ago. The lingering scandal nevertheless put paid to the general expectation that he would run for the French presidency on the Socialist Party ticket, especially given the seemingly endless stream of testimonies and anecdotes about his alleged sexual excesses that followed the failed criminal charge.
It also led to a temporary separation from his wife Anne Sinclair, a celebrated French television interviewer regarded as a local feminist icon. Their subsequent reunion has provided source material for innumerable columns expressing frustration at Sinclair’s old-fashioned loyalty. Much of Welcome to New York’s punch comes from the imagined confrontations behind closed doors between the fictional Devereaux and his wife, played by Jacqueline Bisset.
Astonishingly, they were able to shoot in the real Manhattan house where Strauss Kahn lived under house arrest after he was granted bail. “The script held us up in a certain story but I had so much to work with as a woman and as having had quite a long life and lived with a lot of difficult men. Quite honestly I felt like I was living my own life in one of these situations,” Bisset said after the press screening.
Gerard Depardieu said he pitied anyone afflicted by lust as a sickness. “We all have compulsions,” he said. “I never questioned the morality of my character – that was not the point. What I saw was that this man was not like me at all. But I do understand impulses and you can get crazier and crazier. And there's something very tough in the act of surviving when you have this sickness. In all of us we know there is a monster there; that there's something not quite normal."
A brief response to the threat came from Vincent Maraval, the co-chief of Wild Bunch, the film’s French producers, who said that it was the Strauss-Kahn camp’s right to sue, but that the film had been thoroughly checked over by lawyers and was “iron-clad”. They were welcome, he had said earlier when the film first screened on Saturday, to “make publicity” if they objected to it. The film has already been released in France via video-on-demand, with its screenings to the Cannes press and in a single session at an outdoor beach bar as its only theatrical outings.
Welcome to New York was not part of any official Cannes programme. It is, however, one of several films in Cannes about real-life characters whose portrayals are potentially contentious. Grace of Monaco, which opened the festival and starred Nicole Kidman as Princess Grace shown making a choice between committing herself to royal duties and returning to her career as an actress, has been repudiated by the royal family in Monaco.
Foxcatcher, an independent American film which screened on Monday to huge acclaim, keeps close to the facts in its account of the 1996 murder of a wrestling champion by the heir to the DuPont family, John DuPont, played with absolute conviction by comedy star Steve Carell.
Director Bennett Miller, who directed the late Philip Seymour Hoffmann to an Oscar in Capote, and is already being predicted to have done the same for Steve Carell, told a press conference that the Du Pont family had seen the script but not the film itself.