Director: Michel Franco
Stars: Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Diego Boneta, Darío Yazbek Bernal
Bong Joon-Ho’s globally lauded Parasite wasn’t exactly sly with its observations on class disparity, but it seems positively nuanced when set beside the blunt force trauma of Michel Franco’s latest offering from Mexico. New Order presents a rapidly escalating conflict between working and upper class groups in the near future, framing the poor’s uprising around an affluent wedding that gets wholly overwhelmed in the film’s first act. Franco zeros in on this arena as one example in a nationwide revolt, allowing things to simmer for only 20 to 30 minutes or so before violence and looting smothers the wedding party in an unstoppable wave.
Where Bong had us feel for the downtrodden, Franco paints his rioters (literally) as base, rampaging zombies, with little separating them from the senseless infected that swarm all over the likes of 28 Days Later or World War Z. Once installed in power, their actions switch awkwardly to the contemptuous and robotic. It’s a contentious stance to take, particularly in the modern cinematic climate, which tends to lean to the left, favouring artistic expression and the conveyance of empathy through representation of various minority groups. New Order‘s scare tactics and it’s wide-sweeping dehumanisation make it feel shockingly right-wing.
At it’s centre we have newlywed Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), whose bleeding heart for a poor and begging staff member sends ripples of contention through her own wedding party just as the groundswell of revolutionaries start scaling the walls of the garden. Thanks to her charitable persuasion, we’re asked to root for her. No other group in the film is afforded this level of thought or care. Marianne leaves her own wedding by car to drive to aid her financially troubled servant, only to find herself captured and thrown into a detention centre – a stern lesson to any other rich folk who make the mistake of extending an open hand.
I am fundamentally at odds with the political stance that emanates from New Order, but it seems as though not even Franco believes in the view of the poor he so starkly presents us. Having listened to a Q&A with the director, the intent was a kind of unilateral condemnation, and the uprising itself was intended to be that of a far-right group. That isn’t clear in the film by any means, and this basic miscommunication swerves the entire thing off axis. But while it may be poorly conceived and executed, it is not a technically troubled proposition. New Order is a chillingly sculpted, taught piece of speculative fiction. Indeed, it’s coldly clinical edge is reminiscent of Ballard’s eye when reporting the fractious and craven conflicts in his proto-sci-fi novel High-Rise (itself a tale of a divided micro-climate devouring itself). Or the shocking debasements catalogued in Jose Saramagós book Blindness in which society suffers a rapid collapse when loss of sight becomes contagious – a novel already filmed by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (and a similarly joyless experience).
Franco certainly doesn’t shy away from itemising depravity, and Marianne’s time in what amounts to a concentration camp makes for particularly grueling viewing. There seems little behind scenes of interchangeable men being tasered in the anus, beyond the kind of limp exploitation made popular in 1970s Nazisploitation films. Franco’s team lights his film elegantly. His frames are clean and tidy. But the mechanics of the scenes are the same as those penniless grindhouse flicks. New Order comes to feel pretentious; holding it’s head up as something cerebral, something intellectual, but it only presents antiseptic schlock.
Franco has fashioned a rather sickening rebuke to the old ‘Eat the Rich’ battle-cry, and seems to fundamentally misunderstand the principles of those seeking freedom from oppression. It’s a troubling artifact, one powered by a queasily voyeuristic interest in misery. Cluttered with gratuitous executions, it is a damned vision that aspires to the gravitas of Pasolini’s Salò, but which fails to grasp that film’s implicit indignation. Franco’s detachment unfortunately reads as profoundly callous.