Cannes premiere for Depardieu movie inspired by former IMF chief

Marianne Barriaux
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A poster for "Welcome to New York", the movie inspired by the story of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in Cannes on May 16, 2013

It's the talk of the town. Abel Ferrara's highly-anticipated movie inspired by the sordid sex scandal that brought down IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn got its world premiere Saturday in Cannes.

Far from being shown in one of the big, plush theatres in the festival hall, the film starring Gerard Depardieu as a man with striking similarities to "DSK", whose alleged 2011 sexual assault on a New York hotel maid shook the world, was screened in a small, local cinema.

"Do you know who I am?" reads the poster advertising the film "Welcome to New York", as a handcuffed, suited man seen from behind faces flashing photographers with the gleaming lights of New York in the background.

The premiere of the film by US director Ferrara had caused a scrum among film buffs and journalists alike, all keen to get hold of one of the 500 seats available in the cinema.

"It's an interesting film on two fronts: It's Abel Ferrara and it's an incredible case," said Ludo Vangenechten, head of programming for a movie theatre in Belgium, just before the screening.

"I'm curious of the result. They chose to create a buzz and they succeeded."

- Fiction taken from reality -

The start of Ferrara's film states that it is a fiction inspired by a court case but it has been widely seen as a fictionalised account of the downfall of a politician who was once a strong contender to become president of France.

Strauss-Kahn was arrested in May 2011 as he boarded a plane in New York heading back to Paris, and was forced to live under house arrest for weeks after posting $1 million bail.

Criminal charges in the case were eventually dropped and at the end of 2012, Strauss-Kahn settled a civil suit brought by the maid by paying her undisclosed damages, which reportedly exceeded $1.5 million.

"Ferrara does do certain things that are very documentary-style," Scott Foundas, chief film critic for entertainment-industry magazine Variety, told AFP.

"He actually has some of the real police from the actual case playing the cops in the movie and he also films in the real apartment in downtown New York where DSK and (then wife) Anne Sinclair were living during the house arrest period.

"So in that sense, there are some things that are very much taken from reality."

- 'Huge performance by Depardieu' -

Initial reviews of the film have been mixed, but most critics have lauded Depardieu's performance as a superb return to form.

"The most exciting thing to see in the movie is Gerard Depardieu giving one of his very great performances after many years in which he seemed to be doing a lot of movies just for the money," Foundas said.

On the film poster, famed film director Milos Forman is quoted as hailing a "huge performance by Depardieu" and "Abel's best film."

Acclaimed as one of the greatest actors of his generation, Depardieu has become as famous in recent years for his off-screen antics as for his performing talents.

The star announced in November 2012 that he was moving abroad after President Francois Hollande's Socialist government sought to impose a 75-percent tax rate on annual incomes over one million euros.

He took up residency in Belgium and was granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin. The decision sparked controversy, as have his friendships with Putin and Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

The French actor will hold a press conference after the screening ends, alongside Ferrara and Jacqueline Bisset, his co-star in the film.

And die-hard fans who could not see the film will still be able to turn to the Internet where it will be available on demand from Saturday night, in an audacious distribution move.

"It's a very smart strategy," said Foundas.

"Even though the movie is not in any official section of Cannes, this screening will be all that everybody is talking about here."