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new order review
A Mexican society wedding takes a bloody turn.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michel Franco

Starring: Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Diego Boneta, Mónica Del Carmen, Fernando Cuautle, Darío Yazbek, Eligio Meléndez

new order poster

In director Michel Franco's New Order, revolution is in the air, and on the streets. It's even in the water. The taps at the upper class home where a society wedding is being prepared are spewing green water. In the Mexican flag, green represents independence and hope, and in Franco's fictionalised revolution it has been adopted as a symbol of the oppressed lower classes, who are violently striking back against their wealthy oppressors.

Aware of the symbolism, the mother of the bride-to-be begins to worry that her fenced off domicile has been breached by the plebs, but everyone is too busy enjoying the festivities to pay her any heed. Things are set in motion when a former employee, Rolando (Eligio Meléndez), interrupts the party. His wife is in urgent need of an operation which he can't afford to pay for, and he's hoping to appeal to his former employer's altruistic instincts for a loan. Rolando is fobbed off with some money, far short of the total required, and even threatened. His one shining light is bride-to-be Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), who agrees to go to the hospital and pay for the procedure with her credit card.

new order review

It's at this point that New Order explodes in violence, as the wedding party is assaulted by armed protestors who massacre the attendants and steal their valuables (there are shades of that infamous Dynasty season finale). Marianne finds herself in an internment camp run by soldiers who have turned their back on their government and are now extorting money from the families of the well-off citizens they've managed to round up off the streets, while mowing down any protestors who get in their way.

Caught between the three groups is Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), a young employee of Marianne's. He finds himself in the unfortunate and uncomfortable position of a go-between who liaises between Marianne's kidnappers and her family, the latter of whom begin to suspect he may have an involvement in her disappearance.

new order review

New Order is about as nihilistic as cinema gets. Franco refuses to take a political stance, with "good and bad people on both sides" as a certain world leader might say. It's a cynical and dispiriting film, and if it can be boiled down to a single message it's that you shouldn't put your neck on the line for anyone. Altruism bites the protagonists in the ass here, their naivete exploited in deadly fashion by more cynical forces. Its final moments aim for the jolt of the climax of Night of the Living Dead, but Franco never quite earns the moment the way Romero did, as we never really get to know any single protagonist sufficiently for us to invest in their plight.

A more conventional approach may have centred Cristian, a figure who represents the three colours of the Mexican flag - hope, Catholicism and ultimately blood. But Franco opts for a Battle of Algiers inspired process, favouring an overview of the conflict over an intimate character focussed drama. The scenes of chaos are impressively staged and give the impression of a much larger budgeted movie, but Franco seems a little too enchanted with his backdrop. There are shades of Kurosawa's class conflict drama High and Low, with that film's kidnapping scenario undergoing a class reversal, and I wish Franco had leaned more into this more compelling aspect.

new order review

Is Franco making an important statement here or is he simply out to shock? I suspect only Mexican audiences will be able to provide a clear answer to that question, but either way he's delivered a film that's undeniably gripping in spells. Shot with the cold detachment of a Mafia hitman carrying out his 37th murder, Franco's film plants us at a safe distance from the atrocities it depicts. There's an undeniable craft to the glossy chill Franco creates, and if his intention was to imitate European shockmeisters like Haneke and Von Trier, he's succeeded. But this is a story that needs more amity with its heroes and contempt for its antagonists. Ultimately it's too easy to wash off that green paint once the credits roll.

New Order is on MUBI UK now.