When I saw that New Order was showing at the London Film Festival, I was excited – it had been touted to me as ‘Mexico’s answer to Parasite’. While both films have their gazes trained on class conflict and its brutal fallout, ultimately suggesting that the capitalist system makes parasites of us all, New Order pulls no punches, suggesting that not only will the revolution not be televised; it won’t be pretty, either.
‘There’s no logic to the home invasion, only rage.’
New Order is Mexico’s Answer to Parasite
‘I TRY TO GIVE BACK TO VIOLENCE THAT WHAT IT TRULY IS: PAIN, INJURY TO ANOTHER’
The above quote from Michael Haneke might just as readily have been spoken by Mexican director Michel Franco. Both auteurs have been described as miserabilist in their outlook; both favour a restrained, almost dispassionate style that leaves stories open to interpretation, rather than presuming to cast judgement on their characters.
After Haneke, Franco takes us to task for our complicity in violence — both our enjoyment of it on screen, and the ways neoliberal society perpetuates class violence, with its emphasis on wealth and subsequent lack of regard for the poor.
Right from the off, with Franco’s debut feature Daniel and Ana (2009) — which traces the toxicity and post-traumatic stress of two siblings after an underground pornography ring kidnaps them and forces them to have sex on camera — one feels the miserabilist characterisation of his oeuvre was bound to have some mileage.
Presenting the brutal story of a people’s uprising, but from the perspective of the 1%…
In Daniel and Ana’s mis-en-scène, there is a strange focus on the family’s luxe Mexico City mansion — yet, at the same time, the film refuses to characterise its unthinkable violence as a revolt against the haves by the have nots.
Franco’s dystopian thriller New Order, which showed at the London Film Festival this year, is a similarly tricksy depiction of class warfare: presenting the brutal story of a people’s uprising, but from the perspective of the 1%, New Order is Franco’s most polemic work to date, and one that gives ‘back to violence that what it truly is’.
New Order opens with a collage. A woman in a wedding dress. A figure being dragged through a hallway. Cars burning. Furniture thrown off a balcony, smashing on the ground below. This is the shape of things to come.
The montage plays out to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11: The Year 1905. Those classically trained (not me, I had to look it up) will know the symphony refers to the 1905 Russian Revolution, or alternatively, to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (in the aftermath of which Shostakovich was composing this piece of music.) Here, a revolution — a New Order — is not only forecast, but linked to the myth of progress, the film’s score alluding to ultimately failed seizures of power.
[Franco’s] viewers lean in and participate in his films, before then wondering what it is they have just participated in.
Shostakovich gives way to the fluorescent light and the ambient ticking and beeping of hospital equipment — Franco is a fan of predominantly diegetic sound and a social realist documentary style; denied certain cues, his viewers lean in and participate in his films, before then wondering what it is they have just participated in.
With a worn-down look about him, Rolando (Eligio Meléndez) sits by his wife’s hospital bed. But soon the patients on the ward are uprooted and carried off by medical staff to make way for protestors covered in the gore of blood and green paint.
The camera pans over a carpet of bodies specked with blood and paint. Red and green are the colours of the Mexican flag, which is seen twice throughout the film rippling in a slow-motion that troubles its symbolic authority. (If Franco’s film Chronic examined the emotional burden heaped on hospice nurses, then here is another heap: bodies, and not enough resources to care for them.)
Cut to a wedding celebration, where the bride and groom can’t keep their faces apart for much longer than a few seconds. Not only is this middle-class gathering sealed off from the chaos elsewhere in the city, this couple are loved up in that way that makes the rest of the world a mere shimmer.
The bride’s mother is fretting — perhaps understandably. She wants this special day to go without a hitch. In the bathroom, she turns on the tap and the faucet runs green. We’ve seen enough to know by now that she’s right to be frightened. Green is the colour of the violent coup sweeping through Mexico City, paint thrown at the windows of Louis Vuitton, against riot shields and car windshields.
For now, the mother must rejoin the party, where an esteemed guest is late. No big deal — yet, with our augury hat on, the fact that this guest is a judge impeded by traffic jams caused by protestors will surely get us thinking about justice (perhaps the legal maxim Justice delayed is justice denied — are these protests too late, meaning they will prove no remedy at all?)
And, hey, if we’re counting omens, perhaps we should also note the wedding itself. If Shakespeare solidified weddings as the climax of comedies, does its position here at the film’s outset spell an anti-comedy? A fall from grace?
SO LONG, MARIANNE
There is indeed some kind of anti-joke in the sequence that follows. The hospital being so overrun has had a ripple effect on poor old Rolando. He turns up to the wedding to beg his ex-employers for 200,000 pesos (about £7,500 at the time of writing).
It’s a big ask, especially considering he hasn’t seen the family in years. But he’s desperate. His wife – the one just hauled out of her hospital bed – is in urgent need of a heart-valve operation.
The stage seems set for satire or farce — for ‘keeping up appearances’ across class division — with Rolando standing on the threshold of the big house, greeted by different members of the family with varying degrees of hostility and hospitality.
While the camera tracks the family through the house — its glossy, glass partitions putting us in mind of Parasite, another genre-swerving assault on wealth disparity — note that when we cut back to Rolando waiting, the camera lingers behind his head.
Since we cannot see his face for sympathy, but we can see the faces of affluent family members trying to pool together some cash, there’s a way in which Franco nudges us towards finding Rolando’s presence irksome. You have to remind yourself that his wife is on her death bed and in any other film, Rolando would be our unfortunate protagonist.
Finally, there is no punchline. And Rolando is still 150,000 pesos short of saving his wife. The bride, Marian (Naian González Norvind), however, is the most sympathetic. She sneaks out of her own party, convincing the loyal family driver to take her to Rolando, who has since given up and left. She intends to pay for his wife’s surgery on her credit card.
But Marian isn’t on the road for long, before she finds her way blocked by police. Rioters have taken over the freeway, bringing the city to a grinding halt. Green paint is thrown over the car, blocking the view.
This is the point at which Franco’s film torques. So far, we’ve been doing the imaginative work of visualising the mass looting and rioting off-screen but encroaching, and the sense of disturbance is all the more unsettling for demanding our participation.
Back at the wedding party, protestors climb over the fence, standing on the edge of the property, a trope borrowed from zombie films.
Later this phrase (‘Fucking Rich’) is clearly legible, graffitied on a wall in green spray paint and putting us in mind of Rousseau’s apocryphal quip: ‘When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.’ In this sense, the fact that the faceless hordes standing on the perimeter of the wedding party seem to me ‘zombielike’ does not seem such a stretch. The stand-off doesn’t last for long. There’s no logic to the home invasion, only rage. Shots are fired. Guests are lined up, stripped of their valuables, or simply shot at random, in the head or leg.
While eat the rich is normally uttered with some glee, New Order is in the business of giving back to the phrase ‘pain, injury to another’. Franco’s protestors are notably darker in skin tone, while the wealthier party-goers are white, reflecting the racialised wealth disparity in the director’s native Mexico. Franco started writing New Order four years ago, i.e. before recent Black Lives Matter protests, or the Yellow Vests in France or pro-democracy marches in Hong Kong. Yet the director knows his audience’s sympathies are far more likely to align with the protestors; this dissonance is where the film derives much of its tension.
As the situation descends into Salò-like chaos and brutality, with widespread, ruthless looting and a dystopian feudal system replacing the old capitalist regime, New Order is unflinching in its fascination with the cruelty of inequality and the brutal extremes it often leads to. Ever respecting his audience’s intelligence, Franco refuses to make his cinematic violence easily consumable; all the better for New Order to get under our skin and make us question our complicity in the current order, where violence is so often invisible, ambiguous, unable to be coded easily into a splatter of green paint.
One senses the conclusion that New Order reaches — if any — echoes Gil Scott Heron: the revolution will not be televised. The thing that’s going to change people is something that no-one will ever be able to capture on film. And if they did, would we want to watch it?