REVIEW: New Order (TIFF 2020)
It is very tempting to compare New Order to the current various uprisings and movements of class and race unrest, but to do so would be irresponsible. This thriller is promising enough, directed by Michael Franco, former Palme d’Or competitor and Cannes Screenplay Award winner, it’s a film with a premise that aims to reveal the classist underpins of society. But it is overambitious in its violence and lacks a coherent political context to make sense of the chaos we witness for the duration of its 86 minute running time.
The film opens in Mexico, in the expansive home of the family of bride-to-be Marianne (Naian González Norvind). The seasick tone is set by her mother and other family members exchanging party duties and relegating them to the house maid staff. It feels like a never-ending trade-off of menial tasks among the otherwise breezy, glass-walled atmosphere. But a shift comes once one of the family’s ex-workers comes to ask for money in order to aid in paying for his wife’s unaffordable medical bills. He himself, is passed along once again from family member to family member, having to beg for money just to keep his wife alive. In the background of the drawing of these class lines, there is an ominous protestor uprising brewing.
This uprising is first hinted at by lime green liquid spouting from an unassuming bathroom sink, and soon begins to appear everywhere. Even on the jacket of the family’s ex-worker, who has to remove his wife from the public hospital due to the increase in turmoil downtown. There is some respite provided by the judge that Marianne singles out as the singular beacon of charity and she decides to travel with another one of the family’s staff, Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), to the house of the sick wife of her former staff member. As they descend into the city, it becomes clear both back at her home, and in the centre of the city, that these protestors are quickly taking over. Her family, unbeknownst to her, are taken hostage by what appears to be members of the working-class, but as the mayhem continues, the military take advantage of the ‘new order’ of the social and class hierarchy to manipulate both the rich and the poor.
This introductory half is gorgeous. A highlight is an incredibly jarring set of images that read like hidden object games; human bodies hanged, laying down, running across the screen with the camera sitting disturbingly still, juxtaposed by paint covered luxury brand buildings and city landscapes. But underneath this all, there remains no distinct direction to lead the audience to an understanding of the political environment that caused all of this green-covered destruction. In addition, there are various time-jumps and edits that add to the general confusion.
Among all of this, the violence that later ensues is just not providing any sort of true comprehension or context for the audience. As a trigger warning, this film features a number of sexually exploitative scenes and cruel gun violence. For scenes that grotesque, it makes one wonder who is to blame. The film seems to blame the anonymous, decentralised group of ‘protestors,’ but the majority of the violence is enacted by rogue military members overcome with power and the possibility of extortion. It also is not lost on anyone that these protestors and the house staff, are made up of people of color, and the rich who are victimized, are white and pale-skinned. There would have been a great opportunity to base these protests (that act as the driving force of the film) in these very racial and class dynamics, but instead, people of colour and poor people are used as props, and this unnamed war—inexplicably against both the rich and the poor—is not driven by reality or material means.
New Order comes in the wake of recent anti-capitalist, Marxist and class-driven films such as Oscar winner Parasite just to name one. But this film has a severe deficit in making sure that the movement it sets itself on top off, doesn’t end up tripping over itself. A major reason why so many social movements now are not respected, is because of this perceived lack of unity and theoretical purpose. It feels like an affront to create this film’s environment of political unrest without major purpose, and then to also paint some of the most hard-to-watch images I have seen on a screen in a long time as justified in the name of recreating social ‘order.’