Review: The political chiller ‘New Order’ is an expression of contempt — and deserves the same
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Such as more than a few movies focused on the corruptions and comeuppances from the ultra-rich, Michel Franco’s “New Order” kicks off with a wedding ceremony. The bride is Marianne Novelo (Naian González Norvind), and her big day is unfolding in leisurely attractiveness at her family’s home in one of Mexico City’s wealthiest suburbs. It’s the big event of the season, unless you count number the violent uprising that has convulsed the city just over and above the house’s high wall space, filling the streets with smoke, blood and daring, accusatory splashes of green paint. The horror in the beginning plays out largely offscreen; a few guests are delayed, including the wedding officiant. But by the time someone turns on a faucet and the water works green, it’s clear these ill-timed festivities are in to get more than a minor inconvenience.
The logistics from the rebellion are left perplexingly vague; Franco, whether sowing ambiguity or telegraphing their disinterest, avoids placing his working-class protesters front and center. His attention gravitates instead toward the Novelos, though sometimes it also alights on the grave, careworn encounters of their past and present employees. One of these is Rolando (Eligio Meléndez), a former worker who returns to the home on Marianne’s wedding day having a desperate plea. His wife, Elisa (Regina Flores), continues to be evicted from her medical center bed by an threatening influx of patients, as well as the operation she needs will cost much more than they can afford.
When I first watched this painful, damning scene — since Rolando quietly asks for assist while Marianne’s mother (Lisa Owen) and brother (Diego Boneta) barely conceal their particular irritation — I was faintly reminded of the opening moments of “ The particular Godfather , ” although at that particular wedding the particular favors were openly solicited. On a recent second looking at of “New Order, ” the film that jumped more quickly to mind was “ Melancholia , ” and not just because Franco stocks Lars von Trier’s usually low estimation of humankind. As in that movie, disaster is foreshadowed in a grimly beautiful prologue, and the many principled, likable character happens to be a bride who feels nothing of blowing away from her own nuptials. Determined to help Rolando if no one otherwise will, Marianne leaves the home with another member of the staff, Cristián (Fernando Cuautle), not yet realizing her wedding is doomed after which some.
From there, you are able to pretty much track the actions via the many other recent films it evokes, class inequality and free-floating societal bloodlust having been especially hot movie topics of late. Franco, racing through an 85-minute marathon of misery, resorts to a kind of dramatic shorthand — at the same time viscerally gripping and intellectually slipshod — that leans heavily on other frames of cinematic reference. At first glance, “New Order” — shot (by Yves Cape) inside widescreen images that really feel both exactingly composed and caught on the fly — suggests an art-house riff upon “ The Free ” movies, as armed intruders climb on the Novelos’ walls and begin killing, plundering and gaudily re-decorating. When the movie pulls to capture a broader look at of the aftermath, all that green paint — vividly contrasted by the bright red of Marianne’s pantsuit — can’t help but bring to mind the particular clown-masked revolutionaries of “Joker. ”
And since “New Order” screened at last year’s Venice International Film Happening (where it won the second-place Grand Jury Prize), more than a few observers have invoked the eat-the-rich allegory associated with “ Parasite ” — a comparison that would hold more water in case you drained away the wit, emotional sweep and political nuance that made Bong Joon Ho’s film such an indelible weave of class rage and family misfortune. “Parasite, ” it’s value noting, begins and finishes with the focus squarely upon its poor characters, on their difficult lives and remote dreams. In the dystopian problem of “New Order” (“ripped from headlines that haven’t yet been written, ” per the production notes), the indegent and working-class protesters — most of them Indigenous Mexicans who are darker in complexion than the men and women they’re targeting — are an afterthought, a mystery, an armed-and-dangerous abstraction. It’s not their humanity that interests the filmmaker but their software: They exist to kill and be killed.
Franco’s lack of curiosity about a single set of characters, of course , shouldn’t be mistaken for a modicum of sympathy for the other. It’s possible to find his framing morally and politically repellent without subscribing to the belief, increasingly popular in modern discourse, that a story associated with oppression should only actually be told from the perspective from the oppressed. For decisive evidence to the contrary, one require look no further than the bourgeois-flagellating movies of Michael jordan Haneke , whose cool, analytical sensibility has long been certainly one of this director’s major influences (particularly in such dramas seeing that “After Lucia” and “ Chronic ”). Franco may privilege their most privileged characters here, but if anything, the attention he gives them feels proportionate with his contempt.
At first you may wonder if Marianne, wrenchingly well played simply by Norvind, will manage to get away from that contempt. She is, in the end, the only member of this story’s oppressor class to show decency and compassion, to act sacrificially in the interests of others. How foolish of her, and of us! Without spoiling (if that’s the word) the spectacle of degradation that consumes the second half of “New Order, ” I will simply note that it’s as definitive a demonstration as any that no good deed ever moves unpunished. To find yourself caring for Marianne — and also designed for Cristián and his mother, Marta (Mónica del Carmen), which do everything they can to assist her — is to stumble headlong into the movie’s trap, namely that it fooled you into caring to begin with.
The lesson we’re meant to take away from “New Order” is that all the people onscreen — rich or even poor, left or correct, civilian or military — are irredeemable and essentially interchangeable, and that each of them (and by extension, us) includes a cog-like role to play in an inexorable cycle of dehumanization, slaughter and abuse. Franco pursues this nihilistic thesis with a single-mindedness that one may call rigorous if it didn’t also feel so sluggish. With icy composure but also palpable excitement, he steers us through blocked-off streets, corpse-strewn plazas and eventually past the gates of a prison exactly where inmates are greeted using a friendly “Welcome to hell, a—holes! ” Rarely have got I heard a movie director speak more directly to his audience.
In Spanish with English subtitles
Scored: R, meant for disturbing and violent articles, rape, graphic nudity plus language
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: Starts May twenty one in general release where theaters are open