Nuevo Orden: Stimulating But Divisive Story of A Dystopian Mexico (AFI Fest Review)
Michel Franco takes no prisoners in Nuevo Orden (New Order), a societal drama rooted in class warfare that can be baffling for some but a treat for others.
From the very first frames of Nuevo Orden (New Order), which are comprised of dead bodies and destruction of property, audiences know they are entering a carnival of a presentation. But that is only the surface of what this sociopolitical drama can have in store for us. Michel Franco’s latest film explores a nihilistic world filled with uprisings and massacre that can go to extreme lengths and will eventually find some viewers questioning the profundity of it all. But beneath the harrowing chaos there is a message about the roles that society plays in times of crisis. A simple and powerful theme, which can be difficult to decrypt in a film that can be too much to bear at times. Franco creates Nuevo Orden in a style that only he can deliver, along with many surprises, that will have you thinking about just how unstable our own society can be, and giving us a glimpse into how much worse it can get.
In the opening scenes, we see many injured people being hospitalized, with only the sounds of people screaming and gunshots outside quickly making us realize that something bad has happened in this small Mexican town. We are then transported to a peaceful wedding reception, where no one seems to be aware of the violence outside. All is grand for the rich, and a special day for bride Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind). But the uninvited Rolando appears at their doorstep asking for a large sum of money to cover emergency surgery for his ill wife Elisa, who was formerly employed by Marianne’s family.
After being dismissed by brother Daniel (Diego Boneta), Marianne herself is determined to help Rolando out, leaving her own wedding to accompany him to the clinic. Just in time before the outside events catch up with the party too; intruders raid the home, looting it inside out and murdering several of the elite in the process. The intruders are quickly joined by the home’s maids, who jump in the chaos for a chance to get back at their oppressors. Meanwhile, Marianne is kidnapped by militants, along many others, who are all tortured and held for ransom. Daniel, a survivor of the wedding massacre, works to find a way to bring her home while social order collapses in Mexico.
Nuevo Orden’s synopsis claims to be set in a dystopic future, but the truth is that its setting isn’t too different from our present time; coups still happen in many countries after all, and tension between the rich and the poor have never been more dangerous. Except that in Michel Franco’s world, the chaos forms an interesting scenario, where both the privileged and the poor are victimized and the military only barge in with their own agenda. We also witness a rebirth, as a totalitarian government slowly rises amidst all the conflict. It is hard to pick a side when everyone seems to be wreaking havoc, especially when the film itself is very nihilistic (something I am not). But what Franco wants to present isn’t an uplifting story of any kind, rather a look into what our world is slowly turning into, a decaying society that fails to act in unity when we most need it. But this is a hit-or-miss for audiences, because it is not easy to identify this when they are too distracted by the disturbing and explicit images, which can be haunting. If that does not work, then one will surely be surprised by the film’s shocker ending, its final minutes accompanied by the display of a Mexican flag fading out to military music.
The narrative, only 86 minutes long, often goes sideways with its many twists and turns, unintentionally creating a slightly muddled plot. But the film is still daring, and one can’t help but applaud Franco’s efforts here. His filmmaking style syncs perfectly with the nightmarish subject matter. Even when the film deviates from the original storyline and goes full Clockwork Orange, the thriller elements remain effective. Nuevo Orden may not be an easy watch, not solely because of its imagery, but because it can be radical. Franco throws you through a ride of discomfort, but for some viewers, that discomfort is only the least. Some people will feel repugnance and rage towards this movie. But the director is not trying to shock audiences without any purpose, and those who can endure the content of the film will realize that. He unveils a more probable and realistic dystopic future than what most stories have shown, only in a wild and vivid experience, which is fine with me. Because, when I watch movies, I want to feel something, and I don’t mind if that feeling is horror.
Nuevo Orden (New Order) premiered at the AFI Fest on October 16, 2020: click here to find out more. The film will be released theatrically in the US on May 21, and in the UK & Ireland on August 13, 2021.
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