French Political Sex Movie About DSK Sets Cannes Aquiver

The barely disguised new film about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his scandalous private life has all of La Croisette talking as the Cannes Film Festival gets underway.

Jacques Brinon/AP

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's monumental May 2011 fall from grace rocked France to its core. He was on top of the world, just days away from declaring his candidacy for France's 2012 presidential election and tipped as a favorite, when suddenly the International Monetary Fund director stood accused of raping a Times Square Sofitel chambermaid. Next day, DSK was perp-walking his way, haggard and grizzled, into infamy.

Four thousand miles away, in the middle of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, DSK's demise was the talk of the town, too. A monumental political bombshell, his obscene downfall was a cinematic gimme, sure to set screenwriter hearts aflutter. And now, three years later, almost to the day, DSK is again the talk of Cannes' legendary Croisette boardwalk, stealing the spotlight uninvited.

Abel Ferrara's controversial "Welcome to New York," a fictionalized account of DSK's misery in Manhattan starring the larger-than-life Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset as Strauss-Kahn's wife, débuts Saturday night in Cannes. The quick-cut trailer suggests a soft-core romp with dramatic intrigue and wry one-liners. Depardieu, in a co-ed post-coital orgy pile, is asked by another man, "Why do you do all this fucking?" To which he answers, imperially, "What do you prefer, playing golf?"

To be clear, the movie will début in Cannes, not "at" Cannes. Set for an unusual simultaneous 7-euro video-on-demand release at 9:00 p.m. local time Saturday in France, the film is not in competition and not part of the prestigious festival's official line-up. But never mind. The screening, in a local cinema ahead of a nationally televised press conference and post-launch beach party, remains the hottest ticket in town. And suddenly France is simmering again with DSK spring fever.

Criminal charges in the Sofitel case eventually were dropped (a civil suit would later end in a settlement. And yet, surreally, DSK's Manhattan arrest would prove only the very beginning of the end of his aspirations to power in France. A long series of salacious revelations would follow, from a short-lived case brought by the young novelist Tristane Banon to the never-ending prostitution-ring scandal known as the Carlton Affair. Charged with "aggravated pimping," Strauss-Kahn still faces trial in that case.

Welcome to New York producer Vincent Maraval has whipped up buzz for the film with aplomb, flogging the unusual on-demand release strategy with allusions to censorship pressure behind the scenes. "I don't generally subscribe to conspiracy theories," the Wild Bunch producer told France's Journal du Dimanche. "But here, the facts speak for me and illustrate, in line with what we have endured for three years, the incestuous relations this country maintains between elites, politicians, and the media."

Maraval told Le Figaro on Saturday that the pressure doesn't "even come from DSK or [his wife] Anne Sinclair, but from a little milieu that censors itself." The producer says Depardieu pocketed only 100,000 euros for his performance, amid financing trouble, but that may well rise with receipts.

In fact, the travails of Welcome to New York production have earned headlines ever since word a film was in the works leaked in late 2011. Depardieu, a French acting legend whose star has dimmed in recent years on the back of tax-dodge accusations and his surprising close relations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, scored regular ink for the production with every new mention of his work-in-progress. When French screen star Isabelle Adjani pulled out in pre-production in 2013, citing the "destructive intrusion into the private sphere of these two personalities," DSK and Sinclair (renamed Mr. Devereaux and Simone in the film), the move could only whet appetites anew.

Welcome to New York has been craftily promoted, and previewed only to a tiny handful of critics, including two American trade papers. Variety taps Depardieu's "audacious performance [as] undeniably the pic's chief selling point." The Hollywood Reporter, which lauds "a racy and at times uproarious portrayal" also singles out Depardieu's "grunting and wailing like a rhinoceros having a triple orgasm," comparing his heavy breathing to a "nihilistic Darth Vader." The French daily Le Monde's review describes a "literally naked" Depardieu who "delivers his colossal body to the camera, his immense stomach, his face strained by ogre-like orgasms...

The French daily also flags a new piste for controversy, suggesting anti-Semitic notes in the film's treatment of the fictionalized Anne Sinclair that render it "indefensible." The newspaper has separately suggested Strauss-Kahn's lawyers will be downloading the movie with everyone else upon its release, set to "dissect it under a magnifying glass, the penal code in one hand, the 1881 [freedom of expression] law in the other. Defamation? Breach of privacy? Anti-Semitism?"

Strauss-Kahn, who made a rare, short, and much ballyhooed appearance on French television this week commenting about the euro currency in a documentary, hasn't been shy to sue, regardless of the new attention he gifts his litigation targets. In March, he launched a defamation suit against French novelist Régis Jauffret after his new book The Ballad of Rikers Island featured the unnamed chief of an international organization accused of rape.

More recently, Strauss-Kahn launched legal action against a Belgian pimp known as Dodo la Saumure—one of Strauss-Kahn's co-accused in the Carlton Affair—who has opened a brothel called Dodo Sex Klub, a name that conveniently echoes the ex-IMF chief's initials.

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As Cannes and the rest of France get set Saturday night to relive the tick-tock of DSK's shock demise—ahead of an anticipated U.S. release in August or September—you can bet his lawyers will be on the clock.