Abel Ferrara’s adaptation of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story comes to the Grand Illusion in its controversial American release version. Gérard Depardieu is the massive presence in the center (a performance that rivals only Timothy Spall’s in Mr. Turner as the gruntiest of 2014). He’s M. Deveraux, head of an international banking organization and potential future president of France with a prodigious appetite for sex. After an evening of debauchery, which Ferrara shows us in clinical, resolutely unsexy detail for the first 20 minutes or so of the film, Deveraux sexually assaults a hotel maid. He’s caught at the airport and just as exacting detail we follow the process of his arrest, booking and arraignment. The second half of the film, following Deveraux’s release on bail, is almost lyrical, as he and his wife (Jacqueline Bisset) argue over the fallout of what he’s done and what it means for their past and their future. Deveraux, a leftist economist, despite devoting his life to helping the less fortunate, is exposed as no less a Randian egotist than the worst right-wing cartoon: his utterly unshakeable belief in the inviolability of his own self-interest the only guiding principle of his existence. I had expected the film, when I first heard about it, to concern itself with the mystery of the crime itself. A did-he or didn’t-he exploration of the legal system and our attitudes toward powerful men who commit crimes against women. Ferrara, though, ditches all of that. We know he’s guilty right from the beginning, and the film becomes even more darkly political as a result. There’s no balance, no epistemology, no other side of the story: there’s the insular, protected, heedlessly destructive world of the super-rich and powerful (right and left) and everything else is the margin.
At least, that was the case with the international version I saw at the Vancouver Film Festival last fall. The US release, however, contains a series of cuts that not only tone down the explicitness of the opening orgy scenes (which would be necessary and expected for it to get an R-rating) but also shifts the crime itself to a flashback, opening up the possibility that it did not in fact occur. This is drastically counter to Ferrara’s vision of the story, and he’s rightly gone apoplectic across the media in protest of these actions by his distributor (whether the famously belligerent auteur is ultimately at fault for this disaster because he failed to deliver his contractually-obligated cut of the film is a matter for lawyers, not film critics, to sort out). But, if nothing else, seeing this version of the film should be a fascinating experiment in narrative construction, to see how one apparently minor change can throw a whole film off-balance, and even give it the opposite of its intended meaning. For, if we allow the possibility that Deveraux is actually innocent, what does that do to the second half of the film, his self-justifying monologues on the theory of power? Can this icon of hypocritical hyper-capitalism actually become sympathetic merely by allowing a little doubt to enter our reality?
Find out Friday, April 3rd – Thursday April 9th at the Grand Illusion Cinema.