The opening half an hour to Abel Ferrara’s contentious drama Welcome to New York (inspired by the infamous Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair) is mildly pornographic, with very little dialogue implemented at all. Instead, renowned French actor Gérard Depardieu’s animalistic grunting makes up much of the ambiance, with the unforgettable reverberations deriving from his fleshy palms slapping on the rear end of a prostitute being the most prominent sound. The problem is, the latter half is no match for this somewhat striking opening act.

Depardieu plays Devereaux, a powerful, yet ultimately repulsive man. When he’s not handling billions of dollars, or getting heavily involved in French politics – where he’s tipped to become the next president – he’s lavishing in expensive hotel rooms, paying for a plethora of prostitutes to be the latest victims to his derogatory, unbridled sexual fervour. One morning, following an unrelenting sex extravaganza, he fails to control his excessive desires, and mounts himself on an unsuspecting hotel maid (Pamela Afesi). Nonplussed by his disgraceful actions, he proceeds to fly back home to Paris to see his wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), though is taken into custody before he has the chance to board the plane. What transpires is a court case to determine his fate, as a host of previous, sexual assaults come to light, putting his reputation and career on the line. The problem is – he shows no remorse for his despicable actions.

The juxtaposition in this title is remarkable, as the first act, while agonisingly gritty, is still featuring a host of individuals having a good time. The champagne is flowing and the laughter infectious, as our protagonist indulges in his lewd, sexual activities. Then suddenly the tone shifts dramatically, and the stunning interior of these five star hotel suites soon turns into the cold, unforgiving scenery of a prison cell. This man who was once revered is now a nobody, with his wealth and supremacy counting for very little when face to face with a fellow inmate. While the primary focus in this title is just the one, heinous crime committed on that fateful morning in the hotel room, it works by way of a catalyst into this whole world and this man’s addiction, as a situation this perverse individual has been in so many times before. We are not exposed to the details of such indiscretions, but his nonchalance and lack of repentance for his actions give off the impression he has struck before, and could well strike again.

Depardieu turns in a quite incredible performance – and arguably one of his best to date, as he portrays such a manipulative, lecherous nature that you’re able to completely invest in the role. His physicality enhances the impact of the role too, as his laboured breathing and lethargic movement – not to mention the libidinous panting like a dog – makes for such an unsavoury, contemptible protagonist. However it’s those very traits that actually provoke a sense of pity and remote sympathy for him when he enters the prison. Suddenly the laboured breathing and lethargic movement makes him seem vulnerable and ultimately, pathetic. Another fine turn comes from Afesi, who plays the maid at the heart of the scandal, despite having such little screen time. Her brief, yet moving performance when describing her ordeal to the police is reminiscent of the impact Viola Davis had in her breathtaking, yet momentary scene in Doubt – that earned her an Oscar nomination.

While the film revels in its naturalistic approach, regrettably the ending does become somewhat tedious, and we lose sight of the realism to some extent. Which, coincidentally, is similar to the very opening scene, where Depardieu plays himself briefly, explaining to a group of people why he was attracted to this project. A unique, meta and somewhat puzzling sequence that takes you out of the moment before the moment has even arrived. Nonetheless, there remains an overriding pertinence to this tale which counteracts that, as the story of a man in high authority, and in the public eye, getting in severe trouble for sex offences is sadly a tale somewhat close to home at present.