Serious discussions on the perpetuated correlation between race and class in Mexico have dominated the country’s collective consciousness over the last few years. Cinema has actively participated in such reckoning, but never before as boldly as in Michel Franco’s “New Order (Nuevo Orden).” Bound to be contentious at home for its brutal depiction of a not-so-implausible and not-so-distant dystopia, the auteur’s latest shocks with blistering purpose.
Impressionistic shots of what’s happened and what’s to come—a bridal gown and rivers of green liquid running amok (the allegorical spilled blood of the well off)—open Franco’s most technically elaborate work thus far, as if to gift us a quiet premonition before the visceral onslaught. He then drops us into an elite wedding in full swing.
Born and bred among Mexico City’s most affluent and influential circles, Marianne (Naian González Norvind) and Alan (Dario Yazbek Bernal) are tying the knot while beyond the walls of their opulent home violent protests have erupted. Far more altruistic than her brother Daniel (Diego Boneta), Marianne decides to leave her celebration and drive across town with Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), who works for the family, to aid a former employee.
Her good intentions aside, she may as well be heading towards the abyss because this tightly written and briskly edited vision consists of 88 minutes of extreme, sustained tension and grim depictions of human callousness.
Though undeniably a hard watch, “New Order” provides an uncompromising canvas for Franco’s filmmaking prowess to stretch thematically and in sheer magnitude (thousands of extras, an ensemble cast, a direct political statement about his homeland). Harsh as the truths he is dealing with here are, maybe the bluntness transformed into the near-future narrative will finally make those who refuse to acknowledge such perennial problems be forced to confront them.
In his third collaboration alongside the Mexican director, French cinematographer Yves Cape’s camera moves swiftly throughout the house closely following the action, first as partygoers revel in their bubble of privilege and later when demonstrators invade the residence parched for retribution. That stylized dynamism carries on to the rest of the thoughtfully harrowing ordeal.
Across the capital and the nation at large (as radio broadcasts inform), the poor and darker-skinned majority has unleashed a vicious fury on the ruling class. The intention is not solely to get even financially but to take revenge for the humiliation and dehumanization endured. Murdered in cold blood, white wealthy Mexicans pay for centuries of oppression and untenable economic inequality. Is that justice? That’s debatable. Is it unforeseen? No.
There’s no place here for the reflective portraits Franco favors in most of his work, static frames are only noticeably present when observing the deadly aftermath of the mayhem in VFX-enhanced shots of the Angel of Independence and other major points in the heart of the metropolis. Last year’s women’s demonstrations against gender violence carried out in the same area, as well as the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, inescapably come to mind via these images.
Expectedly from a filmmaker whose oeuvre challenges straightforward notions of morality, Franco is not after a simplistic “eat the rich” or “bring the guillotines” parable. What begins as the furious uprising of the marginalized is soon co-opted by nefarious powers to implant an even more perverse government and further control the masses. Unrest represents a convenient justification to enact fascism—a terrifyingly familiar concern for Americans in the wake of the recent BLM protests that evidenced the worst of the sate’s brute force.
In-depth backstories are inessential for the characters Franco utilizes in this film. Since “New Order” is more conceptual than performance-focused, they are mostly archetypes moving along in the plot. Nevertheless, Cuautle and Mónica Del Carmen, who plays the family’s housekeeper Marta, exude crushing affliction as a mother and son bearing the dilemma of their position at the crossroads of both worlds. Only on-screen for a few minutes, Boneta (last seen in “Terminator: Dark Fate”) enjoys his most accomplished movie appearance yet demonstrating chops for understated drama.
Amidst the multiple vantage points, the parallels between Marianne and Cristian pose the most subversive questions. She sincerely wants to help those that lack the resources she has in abundance, while he doesn’t foster hatred against his overlords even if aware of the power imbalance. But their tempered stances won’t save them from the system they are a part of. Is Marianne exemplary for showing humanity rarely present in her environment? Or should Cristian be fighting on the side of those tired of being at bottom of the ladder?
In this upended reality, the rich are kidnapped, tortured, and sexually abused as their covert military captors await ransom payment. Naked pale bodies with important last names and written numbers on their foreheads suffer degradation. On the outside, however, the scale never tipped to benefit the underprivileged, but now stricter conditions are enforced to control their mobility and access to a livelihood: curfews and work permits foster even more distrust between the haves and the have-nots. Justice remains absent.
Easy comparisons to the likes of Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” or even Mexico’s own recent film “Workforce” by David Zonana won’t fully do justice to what Franco’s has exposed with his sordid, though not gratuitous, lens. A brilliantly unflinching look at a society built on extreme disparities that reads more like an omen than a far-fetched fantasy, “New Order” repeatedly subverts any hope redemption. It guts you with the worst of human nature, like Franco often does, but within a larger sociopolitical scale, and for that, it’s utterly unshakable. [A]