Welcome to NY / Marfa Girl
by Glenn Lovell
Two new films by Abel Ferrara and Larry Clark, those onetime enfants terribles of cinema, are premiering on video-on-demand. Makes sense. VOD is to today’s indie film scene what the shabby, single-screen art house was to 1960s film culture: a haven for those marginal, often provocative specialty items.
Ferrara, best known for such acerbic street dramas as “Bad Lieutenant” and “King of New York,” is represented by the ironically titled “Welcome to New York,” a very loose dramatization of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case starring Gérard Depardieu in a wily impersonation of Kahn. Clark, the former still photographer who turned heads with “Kids” and “Bully,” is back with “Marfa Girl,” a typically desultory look at latchkey teens, this time residing in the West Texas border town of the title.
Who better to play a world-class letch than Depardieu, whose Rabelaisian excesses on and off screen are legendary? Though significantly heavier than the real-life Kahn ‒ Depardieu flaunts a world-class boiler ‒ the actor looks a lot like the former director of the IMF who before being arrested for sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper was in line to become the next president of France. Kahn’s lawyers got the charges dismissed by destroying the accuser’s character and credibility.
Ferrara has always been drawn to larger-than-life characters, libertines and profligates, and Kahn, here called Devereaux, certainly fits the bill. In a docudrama said to have been “inspired by the court case” but whose characters’ private lives are “entirely fictional,” Depardieu’s plays the French economist as a self-confessed sex addict who, though married to an heiress/kingmaker (well-played by Jacqueline Bisset), finds time for serial assignations and stopover orgies. Too obese and, consequently, usually too exhausted to enjoy the marathon romps, Devereaux pokes mischievously at the writhing bodies, a smirking schoolboy who can’t believe his good fortune.
Reviewing “Welcome to New York” is problematic because Ferrara has already disowned this cut, which was shorn of 20 minutes by the producer, presumably to dodge litigation. Consequently, we get a reenactment of the airport arrest, booking and incarceration, and media coverage from Devereaux’s POV, but a replay of the alleged crime from the perspective of the otherwise overlooked housekeeper. This is confusing, to say the least. More mixed signals come from an interview-prologue in which the real-life Depardieu makes it clear that he has nothing but contempt for a character he plays with such conviction as charming, if clueless, womanizer.
The rap against Larry Clark is that he’s as much lip-smacking voyeur as he is serious chronicler of teen angst. At his best, in “Kids” and “Bully,” he has provided a rare entrée into the world of high-schoolers experimenting with sex, drugs and peer pressure. At his worst, in the unreleasable “Ken Park,” he has pedaled gratuitous sex as serious anthropological study, allowing his camera to linger a beat or two too long on his subjects’ privates. Little wonder some refer to Clark as the champion of alienated street kids, others as a garden-variety perv.
It’s unlikely “Marfa Girl” will satisfy Clark’s fans or still his detractors. Like his other films, it’s a meandering, mostly improvised slice of teen life, this time told mostly from the perspective of a skinny, 16-year-old Hispanic youth named Adam (Adam Mediano). Others who wander in and out of this pseudo-documentary: Adam’s girlfriend (Mercedes Maxwell), a dangerous Border Patrol cop (Jeremy St. James), Adam’s bird-lover mother (Mary Farley), a New Age-y healer who gives internal massage, Adam’s brother and his band, and the character of the title, a visiting artist (Drake Burnette) who spends more time in the sack than in the studio.
When not taking timeouts for sex, Clark’s ensemble, particularly the free-love bohemian, drone on and on … and on about sex. This being the case, whatever Clark has to say about life on the fringes or about the treatment of undocumented immigrants feels both inconsequential and insincere.
WELCOME TO NEW YORK ✮✮1/2 With Gérard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset. Directed by Abel Ferrara; scriped by Ferrara, Christ Zois. 104 min. Rated R (for graphic sex talk, nudity, sexual violence)
MARFA GIRL ✮1/2 With Adam Mediano, Drake Burnette, Jeremy St. James, Indigo Rael. Written, directed by Larry Clark. 105 min. Unrated (would be R for liberal nudity, sex between mostly teenagers, violence)