It’s a phrase used an awful lot, but New Order truly is one of those films best going into knowing nothing at all. The new film from Michel Franco is hugely unexpected, and will utterly shock you – and it’s a rollercoaster ride well worth taking.
Without giving away what it is that makes New Order such a mind blowing and surprising experience, it opens – as many great films do – with a wedding ceremony. Here, we’re introduced to the array of privileged, out-of-touch characters that inhabit this scarily realistic Mexico City setting. It’s a very natural introduction to the characters, with Franco’s script flowing so well, allowing audiences to organically meet the cast and discover the mystery that pervades the opening half. The film begins with some very confusing, scattershot imagery of naked bodies, green paint and chaos – which cleverly becomes clearer as the film goes along, and establishes that New Order is far from straightforward.
Yet even aside from the shocking turn that the plot takes – one that, I must stress, is absolutely worth discovering yourself – New Order is a terrific exploration of class, power and society. The main cast – all revolving around the family of newlywed Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) – are pretty unlikeable: either too stingy to help a former worker with medical bills for his sick wife, or completely repulsed at the prospect of dealing with people of a lower class to them. Franco’s script sculpts this Mexican upper class as blinded by ignominy and privilege, to the point where they feel untouchable – although as it emerges, that isn’t the case.
The sheer guts with which Franco handles the film’s narrative is admirable. Yes, it’s not the most nuanced look at class and the dark side of violence – at times it’s so bleak that it becomes a little overbearing – but the dystopian grimness with which it constructs the world is really well done. It’s hard to skirt around what makes this second half so gripping, but the sheer scope of the film, the way it covers so much ground so well in just 90 minutes, is admirable.
Yet it’s not a simple good-versus-evil story either. Yes, the upper-class social climbers are narcissistic, selfish and money-driven, but New Order makes it very clear that neither side of the spectrum is innocent. When things go awry and society falls into literal disarray, it’s by no means a better state of affairs for those who were at the bottom of the societal ladder before, and it’s not quite clear what Franco is trying to say here: perhaps that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and no one group of people can be trusted to govern a nation alone.
For its potential flaws – it loses a little steam towards the end, and is a bit moralistically muddled – what New Order does so well is disorient audiences and take them on a truly unexpected journey, one you will absolutely never see coming from the opening few minutes. It’s relentlessly sad, very grim and brutally violent, but also a very important film about the overbearing class tension that pervades society, and the damage it may one day cause. New Order is one of the best foreign films of London Film Festival 2020, and you’d be remiss to not give it a watch.