Plot: In one of Mexico’s richest neighborhoods, high-society guests flock to a lavish mansion to celebrate a wedding. But things soon take a tragic turn, as the arrival of unwelcome guests soon shatters everything in sight.
On the surface, Michel Franco’s NEW ORDER is a film about class conflict in modern-day Mexico. As the rich only get richer and the poor get more miserable and desperate, there comes a breaking point that can shatter everything in its way, and what starts as a call for justice ends up as a vengeance spree.
But as much as addresses social classes, NEW ORDER is really a film about the slow death of compassion in a world that is so indifferent to grow feelings for the weak, so angry to stop for a second and consider the consequences, so blinded by hate, superiority and alienation to consider anything but one’s own interests. In what perhaps is Franco’s best film in ages, this is a film that goes far beyond who is to blame, pushing its audiences to examine what has become of us as human beings as we see small bursts of compassion fading away, making room for a ‘new order’ – a new normal in a world that is not interested in eliminating boundaries or taking down bridges.
The film opens with a lavish wedding being held in one of Mexico’s high-society neighborhoods. Not so far away, protests are starting to take shape and gain momentum – but those celebrating are simply unfazed by the growing tensions as long as they remain outside their walls. But things soon take a bloodier turn, as protestors invade the wedding mansion, turning the guests into hostages. In the middle of all the chaos, killings and panic, the bride, a twenty-something who hasn’t yet lost the ability to develop compassion for others, risks everything to go save one of the household workers who is in dangerous condition and needs to be taken to the hospital before it’s too late. As the country plunges into extreme chaos, the woman is taken hostage by the rebels and a nightmare ensues.
What makes THE NEW ORDER different from typical social dramas is its refusal to take sides and turn its conflict into some sort of grandstanding statement about tragic social injustices. With breathless pacing and spectacularly choreographed action set pieces, the film invites us to observe, contemplate and look beyond the conflict, as we follow the fates of three characters who could not be any more different in terms of status, but could not be any more similar in what they’re striving to achieve: saving each other. As the world around them collapses, and no end seems to be in sight despite strict curfews set by local authorities, the film’s central characters struggle to stay alive in an ecosystem that simply does not acknowledge their intentions. There’s only one choice: war. But as NEW ORDER shows us, this is a war in which both sides lose, even if they don’t seem to be ready to acknowledge it.
Verdict: A harrowing, edge-of-your-seat experience that is incredibly difficult to shake off, NEW ORDER is a tough sit but an important analysis of the world we’re living in today. Timely, powerful and incredibly well made, it stands great chances at this year’s International Film Oscar and rightfully so. A brutal film for brutal times.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival.