This review was initially published when the film played at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival.
Mexican director Michel Franco’s “New Order” (“Nuevo Orden”), the 2020 Venice Film Festival prize winner, is a shocking and horrifying film, but it’s the kind one hopes will shock and horrify the right people.
Much like last year’s “Parasite,” this is a movie about wealth (and the lack thereof) that is no doubt attuned to specific realities in its country of origin while also addressing issues that are thoroughly global. And if those issues aren’t addressed, Franco’s film warns, the results could be catastrophic.
“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. This is the kind of upscale affair that would feel aspirational in a Richard Curtis or Nancy Meyers movie, but Franco makes it feel sinister in the context of the opening moments.
Rolando (Eligio Melendez) comes to the house on behalf of his sick wife, who had been employed by the 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 (Naian Gonzalez Norvind, “Cubby”), the bride.
After Rolando is told to leave, Marianne attempts to follow him home 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 house is stormed, people are shot, and the place is ransacked for valuables. As Marianne tries to return home in the following days, she is kidnapped for ransom by the military, who have imposed martial law. In no time at all, fascist elements have taken advantage of the chaos to impose a totalitarian government that will victimize rich and poor alike.
Writer-director Franco and his co-editor, Oscar Figueroa, ratchet up the stakes notch by notch, so that by the end of the film’s 88-minute running time, we completely believe each step that has plunged the nation into horror. The script almost never makes us privy to information that at least one of the characters doesn’t have, so rather than present this shift into turmoil from the outside, we get a vividly unsettling ground’s-eye view of events.
(It’s no surprise, of course, that the richest, most corrupt and most security-minded wedding guest winds up marching lockstep with the military’s most epaulet-friendly monster.)
The cast draws us in with vivid performances; we understand Marianne’s privilege but also admire her empathy, and Monica Del Carmen is wrenching as Marta, a devoted domestic caught in the literal crossfire. Franco and his team are also very shrewd with their color story, from the contrast between Marianne’s red wedding outfit and the bright-green paint used by the impoverished protesters, to the shift from both to the black masks and dark camo of the soldiers.
Franco isn’t afraid to use violence to get his point across, and his point very directly addresses systemic flaws in the current version of capitalism, as it leads into a new kind of feudalism. This is the kind of film that should be required viewing on yachts and private islands, and at the G-8 and Davos conferences. If good intentions or even pragmatism aren’t enough to make the wealthy and powerful think about income inequality, “New Order” suggests, there’s always fear.