Michel Franco’s New Order (2019) is a tiresome, grueling exercise in vivisecting the bleeding nation of Mexico which should have excelled as a provocative social commentary. But underneath the many shocking images Franco conjures up in front of us lies a shallow film which isn’t keen on delivering answers.
There’s more than just one trouble brewing in Mexico these days.
From war on drugs to the deepening economic instability, the country’s desperately calling for help, alas, 2020 isn’t exactly the year that fosters positive changes. Amidst the dramatic developments of the global pandemic, voices of those in need can’t break through the ruckus. Yet some of them bring forward a message we should all heed which in the case of Michel Franco’s New Order (2020) is a crimson revolution born out of the wealthiness gap and widening injustice.
The plot of New Order (2020)
Before the Mexican director ignites the streets and populates them with army troops, arsonists and cartel gangsters, the story paints an idyllic image. A sumptuous wedding of Marian (Naian González Norvind) and Alan (Dario Yazbek Bernal) gathers the creme de la creme of the local high-society snobs. Preceding that part is a harrowing shot of green-painted bodies lying around – an omen that things will go south. Soon the colorful glitz of the wedding party’s tainted when it is crashed by a group of terrorists.
Here begins the rest of the film – unwelcoming, crude and filled with violence that makes Quentin Tarantino’s movies look like Sunday family films. Franco shows it all – rape, mass executions, senseless killings, kidnappings and a plethora of mutilated bodies which all become a terrifying monument of the bloody French Revolution returning in modern Mexico.
New Order (2020) is a grim tale of spiraling violence and despicable crimes
In spite of its gruesomeness New Order (2020) never fully takes off because its storytelling isn’t on par with the visual shock value. Franco’s keen eye for grisly details is so focused on ubiquitous chaos that it hardly sees the need to pull the audience into the story of Marian and the supporting characters.
This issue begins with the somehow troubling protagonist.
Marian belongs to the snobbish high-society circles, although the director paints her in a more favorable light as a compassionate and good-spirited person. She’s more invested in helping out an old employee of her parent’s mansion – a man who comes uninvited to her own wedding – than cherishing the most beautiful day of her life.
Is it because she’s unhappy? We don’t know.
Maybe the former employee was an important person to Marian in the past? We don’t know.
An act of a Good Samaritan that Marian performs serves as the only glimpse into who she is. Lamentably, this fact alone won’t allow any bond to blossom between us and her. Because of that lack of an emotional lining underneath, Marian’s drama doesn’t hit as hard as it should.
While Marian remains our protagonist, Franco also follows her chauffeur Cristian (Fernando Cuautle) – another one of the good guys. Equally kindhearted, the driver constitutes the insight into how the street riots and the revolt impact the lives of the poorer. Cristian, who is accidentally involved in the kidnapping of Marian, only broadens the perspectives by a percentile though. Instead of shedding a new light, this character triggers a key plot twist, and is afterwards left in a state of limbo, all the way until he becomes – once again – a cog in the plot machine.
Halfway through the film it becomes clear that Michel Franco can’t decide whether New Order (2020) should paint a societal image or focus on individual portraits. Unfortunately, combining them together is simply impossible. On the one hand Franco wants to go full-on Dunkirk (2017) – introduce a collective protagonist with a few faces to speak for the mass – yet the director also scrutinizes an array of people whose problems are too personal to talk about general issues.
Not enough depth, too much visual madness
Even if the purpose of New Order (2020) was to show a coincidental spark that’s forged into an unspeakable nightmare, we’re left with no knowledge about the situation. What caused the revolt? Were there really no presuppositions, or early signs that the country’s on the edge? Unfortunately, the ending of New Order (2020) vaguely (if at all) answers these questions. Although we do learn who the bad guys are, their motives – presumably the urge to usurp power – remain mostly conjectures.
Having no background is more frustrating because of all the politically-involved films about Mexico that preceded New Order (2020). From the shocking Amores Perros (2000), to Steven Soderberg’s Traffic (2000), Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece Sicario (2015) and last year’s Sanctorum (2019), numerous filmmakers pointed out the tragedy of Mexico. But if we’re to believe that at the end of the road there’s an abysmal bloodbath, the courtesy of knowing what leads to it is expected.
New Order (2020) is an incomplete metaphor of modern Mexico
Lack of context eventually delegitimizes the bloody metaphor of what the future holds for Mexico. New Order (2020) gloats over its portrayal of chaos without neither looking from broader perspective (what caused these events? Could they be predicted or expected?) nor giving voice to all the sides of the conflict before the rushed finale.
Regardless of whether the film’s poignant or not, New Order (2020) surely feels timely. In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movements, the recent riots stirred by the ruling party Law and Justice in Poland, as well as other political turbulences spreading across the globe, New Order (2020) delivers a bleak and terrifying vision of what unresolved tensions lead to. Humans are faulty by design, prone to violence. It is my belief that films such as Michel Franco’s New Order (2020) exist to remind us of the pointlessness of violence. Because behind every riot stand instigators who see nothing beyond their own interests.
New Order (2020)
Original title: Nuevo Orden
Cultural Hater Reverse Grade: 6/10
Director: Michel Franco
Writer: Michel Franco
Starring: Naian González Norvind, Dario Yazbek Bernal, Diego Boneta, Fernando Cuautle
Genre: independent cinema, political fiction, thriller
- Traffic (2000),
- Amores Perros (2000),
- Sanctorum (2019),
- Sicario (2015),
- Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018),
- Do The Right Thing (1989),
- La Haine (1995)