Michel Franco’s New Order opens with quick, random cuts of violence, and hospital patients being forcibly removed by protestors who take over an intake ward, before cutting to a wedding party taking place at a walled and well-guarded home. Throughout, we see see splashes of green paint through the streets, on dead bodies, and all over the ground. It gets to the point where a it’s almost spine-tingling when a woman turns on the tap in her swanky bathroom and the water gushes green. A minute later, the water is clear again, but there is no mistaking the omen. This isn’t exactly going to be a good day.
Things seem more promising for Marianne (Naian González Norvind), the daughter of a wealthy Mexican businessman. She’s about to get married in the chic city-center house designed by her architect brother (Diego Boneta): all those glass walls soon become perfect for glimpsing the green-paint wielding protesters outside. As groups of well-dressed movers and shakers boast about planning permits they’ve finagled, and as their scions knock back champagne and cocaine, she dashes from room to room, greeting guests, nagging the indigenous servants, stashing wedding presents into a safe, and keeping an eye out for the judge who will marry her and the similarly affluent groom.
But then Rolando (Eligio Melendez) arrives at the house on behalf of his sick wife, who had been employed by Marianne’s family for many years; she was one of those patients removed from the hospital, and the only way to get her the surgery she needs to save her life is to move her to a private clinic that demands payment up front. Even though the money he needs amounts to pocket change for his wife’s former bosses, the family treats him with varying levels of disdain — all except for Marianne. But after Rolando is told to leave, Marianne attempts to follow him to give him the money he needs, only to find herself in the midst of a violent coup that is unfolding in the streets. In her absence, the party and home is stormed, people are shot, and the place is ransacked for valuables. But Marianne tries to return home in the following days, she is kidnapped for ransom by the military, who have imposed martial law. And in no time at all, fascist elements have taken advantage of the chaos to impose a totalitarian government that will vicitim rich and poor alike.
If couldn’t tell already, Franco throughout the film likes to toy with sympathies. His ominous opening act acknowledges the central family’s thoughtless privilege without reducing them to caricatures; striking the perfect balance with the inciting incident with Rolando. From the beginning we can understand why a reckoning might be coming for these people, but that doesn’t make it pleasant or righteously satisfying to see it happen. Likewise, while it’s hard not to broadly and abstractly empathize with the revolutionaries (who are pointedly dark-skinned and indigenous, while the family is light-skinned), New Order doesn’t give them backstories or even characterization; we see them as the family originally does: hostile strangers storming their castle.
While additional information comes that might shade some form of the sympathies, the film might be intended as a prophecy: This is what’s going to happen if income inequality is never addressed and those at the top keep hoarding it all for themselves. But, again, Franco is too much a provocateur to let his audience feel good about the idea of overthrow. His vision of class revolution is disturbing, not inspiring, and his violence is harsh and stark, especially once one character in systematically brutalized for the sins of their tax bracket. The film will almost undoubtedly be contentious on every side of the political spectrum, especially where the film ultimately lands. But ambivalence aside, New Order works as a kind of gripping apocalyptic horror movie. Lots of filmmakers have emulated the audience antagonism of Michael Haneke, but Franco is an example here that is among the few that nearly capture that fully under your skin type of factor. Packed with blunt nihilism and ruthless, cutting provocation, New Order finds visceral gut punches and a squeamish-inducing tableaux in its vision of social breakdown.
New Order screened at the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival. It has been acquired by Neon for U.S. distribution