Wild Bunch unleashed Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York on big and small screens at Cannes on Saturday night [May 17].

Although not in Official Selection, the film starring Gerard Depardieu in a role inspired by former IMF chief and French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss Kahn’s humiliating arrest in New York in 2011 on sex charges, later dropped, was one of the most anticipated on the Croisette. 

Industry, press and public watched the picture at the Star cinema as well as in a makeshift theatre on the Carlton’s Nikki Beach, before heading to party where guests were frisked by fake NYPD cops on entering and goodie bags stuffed with white bath robes, whips, masks and handcuffs were handed out.

Simultaneously, the film also went up live on a dozen VOD sites in France, including Wild Bunch’s platform FilmoTV, as well as in Germany, Spain and Italy.

Starring Depardieu as Mr Devereaux — a sex addict, business tsar — the films kicks off with two orgy scenes and a sexual assault in the first 20 minutes, before moving on to an almost documentary-style portrayal of his arrest and imprisonment on sex assault charges.

Both the subject matter and the distribution strategy have prompted controversy in France. 

Wild Bunch and Ferrara have said in the past that the film is only loosely inspired by the Strauss Kahn affair but there are a number of direct and imagined reconstructions of events surrounding the scandal.

The latter part of the film is inspired by the impact the scandal had on Strauss Khan’s relationship with his now ex-wife Anne Sinclair, represented by Simone, who is played by Jacqueline Bisset.

Depardieu and Bisset play out a number of improvised conversations between the Devereaux and his long-suffering wife 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,” said Bisset.

Two other scandals, involving a young, law student and a journalist — that came to light following the arrest — are also alluded to in the film.

Asked at the press conference whether either Strauss Kahn or Sinclair had seen the film, Wild Bunch co-chief Vincent Maraval said: ”Who knows. Perhaps they’re watching on FilmoTV right now and paying us €7 to do so.” 

Pressed on whether Wild Bunch was expecting a lawsuit following the release, he replied: “We made the film under American law. We’ve done what all US productions do which is to consult lawyers The lawyers have seen the film and the script… If they want to make publicity for us they’re welcome.”

Ferrara said he first came up with the idea for the film while shooting 4.44. Last Day on Earth in New York at the same time as the scandal was unfolding in the city.

“The inspiration came from the people I was working with at the time. It started with Vincent – we batted this idea around and then Depardieu came along with a similar idea,” said Ferrara. ‘You couldn’t escape it if you were in New York at the time. It was a real event.”

“Some films come as an idea all at once. Other films come as a dream. They come in different ways. This one came from the group we were working with – the meeting between me and Gerard,” he added.

Speaking about playing the role of Devereaux, Depardieu said: ‘The pleasure was firstly making this film with Abel, Jacqueline and Vincent Maraval but it was also the pleasure to shoot with this team on a topic which obviously could escape anyone because it was mediatised and to tell a story which mixed sex, power and money in a Shakespearian way. There is a lot of theatricality in power.”

Asked if he had thought about Dominique Strauss Kahn while making the film, Depardieu replied: “He was in the back of my mind all the time but really it’s also about the writing of Chris Zois who is not only a writer but also a shrink, an analyst, and the research of Abel, who has so much energy that he puts in his work.

“Obviously there is some exaggeration but there was no identification so to speak. I feel there is a mystery in the couple. We can imagine the reality but we don’t know. The whole truth was not to be like him; the point was never to look like him or sound like him.”

(Tiffany Pritchard contributed to this report)