Tuesday, 17 August 2021

New Order



Premised on a popular uprising in a near-future Mexico, Michel Franco's New Order isn't particularly interested in exploring an ideological clash between the working and upper classes. Rather, the writer-director elects to focus on opportunism born out of conflict and how rapidly changing power dynamics allow people, at every level, to push their luck. New Order begins at a lavish wedding in a gated suburb; politicians and construction magnates churn beneath enormous abstract paintings, their adult children slipping away to do club drugs deep in this labyrinthine mansion. The house staff whisk around the festivities, correcting messes and relaying messages. As the camera snakes around the reception we hear scattered asides about bribery, the hosting family apparently donating their way to cushy government or military contracts. 

These outgoing finances may secure a nuptial visit from a local politician - and the opportunity for the bride's father to then talk business - but, quite apparently, it does not mean that these high-society leeches are truly taken into confidence. As the protestors draw closer and closer to the building, the politician and his family slip away without a word of warning. So when a handful of rioters leap the garden wall, the massed reception freezes. At first the partygoers attempt to dismiss the trespasser with barked orders and waving, as if banishing the help. When pistols and other weapons are produced the wealthy cower, instantly recognising that their relationship with those they deem beneath them has changed. No attempt is made to resist, despite the rich - at least initially - comfortably outnumbering their attackers. Perhaps judging that they will be accepted by the invaders, several domestic workers begin violently extracting wealth from their former employers. The rest slip away to avoid being embroiled in the beatings and killings that follow. New Order could now describe a prolonged siege, the pressure cooker back-and-forth between hostages and hostage takers, but Franco's film skips ahead, outpacing these scenes of reparation. 

The uprising that swept the country quickly fades away, replaced on the streets by heavily armed soldiers. This occupying force - one that seemingly waited until the police and protestors had exhausted each other before mobilising - are far from a cohesive unit. While black shirted commandos rally around what remains of the ruling class, a khaki-clad national guard patrol the streets, scooping up high value targets. Rather than return these notables to their families, this rogue unit transfers their young hostages - very much the same crowd seen doing MDMA earlier - to black sites where they are tortured and sexually abused. Fernando Cuautle's Christian and Mónica del Carmen's Marta, members of the house staff who chose to assist rather than attack, become our guides into the regime's more casual acts of humiliation - the curfews, contradictory diktats, electronic corralling and even an on-the-spot disinfection regimen that sees commuters soaked while seated on blacked-out buses. Conversation and discussion crumble to nothing, Franco filling his frame with the cowed and shuffling. In this way New Order continuously resists sticking with a specific human perspective, instead the film detaches itself from rolling, terrifying, dilemmas to impassively observe the machinery of a nation that has stumbled into dictatorship. 

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