Tell me now, how should I feel?
One year ago in Venice, one film took the entire festival by storm. A film known only as Joker, all who saw it could not stop discussing it, good or bad, and it went on to become a global box office hit, as well as being nominated for a slew of Academy Awards. However, while many eventually deemed it to be lackluster and without meaning, this year, a film that is deserving of all of that buzz, and with praise instead of negativity, has arrived. With New Order, Mexican writer/director Michel Franco (After Lucia, Chronic) has crafted something truly special. Perhaps only comparable to the phenomenon that was Parasite or Bacaru, New Order starts off in their vein but soon becomes something that is so much more than any of those films that have come before it.
Opening with an upper-class wedding with airs of normality, the film revolves around Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), the bride of the wedding who must soon come to terms with what is happening around her as her servants begin to turn on both her and the rest of the upper class of Mexico. While this film could seem at first glance to be going down a road trodden by Parasite, it is able to subvert one’s wildest expectations to become a thrilling roller-coaster ride that does not let up. In fact, while Parasite does offer a deeper insight into the minds of it’s fleshed out characters, New Order successfully trades that focus for one that examines the social structure and class relationships of Mexico as if they were characters themselves, exploring the broader implications and consequences of a country’s unequal class system. What was the climax of Parasite, is instead presented here as the inciting incident of the film, leading to a blank dystopian canvas in which Franco can explore class issues and more, at a much larger and cataclysmic scale than ever before.
While this presents a situation in which even the most established filmmakers could risk being caught up in the scale and chaos of it all, Michel Franco proves he can take on this challenge, and more. On track to become the next big visionary auteur, with New Order, Franco joins an elite class of master filmmakers who can take a large-scale picture and still maintain enough of a steady directorial hand, imbuing the film with a socially relevant subtext that brings a greater purpose to the film, without losing the grandeur present in epics that many art house films do not even attempt to touch.
Under his guise, he is able to construct scene after scene of beautifully calculated chaos, and much like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, is able to properly handle steering away from focusing on characters with unnecessary moments to deliver a visceral and transcendent experience that is brimming with social tension. Much has to be said about Franco’s own screenplay as well. Throughout the course of the narrative, Franco perfectly plants the seeds for a slew of twists and turns that challenges one perception of leadership at any given time with its constant shifts in power and class dynamics, and is unafraid to craft haunting moments where no one is safe that will leave one shocked and chilled to the bone.
While many of it’s technical aspects at first may not have done enough to truly stand out to the extent that the screenplay does, we soon see that in line with the narrative, it’s stylistic flair is slowly building beneath the surface until it is unleashed and wreaks havoc. At first, perceived in more standard light, once the film takes its first turn, it reveals itself to be a steadfast and unflinching way to observe the magnitude of the events, and containing itself just enough that it won’t overpower the core story in the mind of the viewer.
However, because of how the film has shaved away any need for exposition or set up, many may argue that the film has no substance to propel the ambitious film forward, and claim that it offers only a surface-level examination of the situation at hand. Yet, this is only because Franco wisely expects one to be familiar with the context behind the story. To Latin-American viewers, this dystopia may be all too real, as many of the seemingly exaggerated levels of corruption and betrayal throughout the entire government are ever-present in many Latin-American countries to this day. One only need to learn about the class and power dynamics that influence events such as the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968, where students rioted for change but were used and gunned down by the military with no regard for life, to fully grasp the purpose and subtextual nature of the film. Even without that context, the film will surely resonate with many because of its universal themes that carry over into every aspect of society all around the world, with even Franco himself stating that the American Black Lives Matter and French Yellow Vest movements heavily inspired the nature of the film as well. Because of that, fears of a loss of cultural context seen stemming from numerous foreign-language films should be quelled, as while it will surely help one understand the complete nature of the film, the presence of universal themes of class inequality and social discord ensure that it is one that will linger in the minds of viewers for years to come.
New Order is a film that many will struggle to put into words. One-dimensional descriptors such as wild, chaotic, important, and shocking are true but don’t even begin to do it justice, but one thing that is for certain, is that Michel Franco has proven to be the next prominent voice in international cinema. Ultimately, New Order is a transcendent experience that will shock you to the core, and undoubtedly is the best film of the year.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival