June 7, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Michel Franco
Spanish with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Mexico, the dramatic film “New Order” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A wedding celebration at a wealthy family’s estate is invaded by rioters protesting against the elites of society.
Culture Audience: “New Order” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about conflicts between social classes, but some of the brutal violence in the movie might be too much for some viewers to take.
“New Order” raises provocative questions in this raw and disturbing depiction of clashes between the “haves” and the “have nots.” One of the biggest questions has to do with blurred lines of morality when people who think they are oppressed become the oppressors. And the movie brings forth the ongoing debate over social protests, when some people think violence isn’t the answer, while others have a “by any means necessary” set of beliefs.
Written and directed by Michel Franco, “New Order” is also a blistering commentary on political violence in Mexico, although the movie’s themes can apply to any country that has been divided over official or unofficial civil wars. The movie is told mainly from the point of view of the well-to-do protagonists who start off thinking that they’re going to an elegant wedding but end up experiencing horrors beyond their worst nightmares.
Much of the first half of the movie takes place on a wealthy family’s estate, where the wedding is scheduled for that day. Outside the estate, there are hints that angry protests have caused a lot of upheaval in the surrounding area. Roads have been blocked off by police. And the protesters have been splattering green paint on people and property.
What they are protesting is never explicitly stated, but it doesn’t really have to be, because it’s clear that it’s an uprising against a society that the protestors think needs to be radically dismantled. Meanwhile, the people at the mansion are doing their best to ignore what’s happening around them because they think whatever is happening outside in the streets doesn’t really apply to them.
Franco’s message in “New Order” isn’t exactly subtle. It seems like he made this movie to say that it isn’t just wealthy people who have a sense of complacency, but it could be anyone who wants to ignore the reasons behind civil unrest. Letting this discontent fester without properly addressing it can have disastrous and tragic results.
The first half of the movie takes viewers into the world of the bride’s upper-crust family who is hosting the wedding. These scenes give a sense of how privileged and fortunate the family and their guests seemed to be before the chaos of the street protests changed their lives forever. The family members and the wedding guests have lulled themselves into a sense of security. It’s not necessarily pure arrogance in thinking that they’re “untouchable,” but it’s more out of ignorance of not knowing or not being able to relate to what’s making the protestors so filled with rage.
The movie’s main protagonist is Marianne Novello (played by Naian González Norvind), the 25-year-old bride-to-be, who is in a blissful romance with her handsome architect fiancé Alan (played by Dario Yazbek Bernal), who has an easygoing personality. They are so happy and in love that they can barely keep their hands off of each other at a pre-wedding party, hours before they are scheduled to exchange marriage vows. Alan is very supportive of Marianne and sees her as an equal partner.
Also at the wedding are:
- Marianne’s older brother Daniel (played by Diego Boneta), who is a somehat cocky architect colleague of Alan’s.
- Daniel’s pregnant wife Blanca (played by Ximena García), who is more introverted than Daniel.
- Alan’s mother Pilar (played by Patricia Bernal), who is happy about his upcoming marriage.
- Marianne and Daniel’s parents Ivan (played by Roberto Medina) and Rebecca (played by Lisa Owen), who also approve of the marriage.
The Novelo family has several servants, but the ones who get the most screen time are housekeeper Marta (played by Mónica Del Carmen) and her son Cristian (played by Fernando Cuautle), who’s a driver and occasional handyman. There are some security personnel at the wedding too. But viewers will eventually see that these security staffers will be outnumbered and not all of the Novelo family employees are loyal.
As the party guests celebrate inside the gated walls of the estate, there are signs that the effects of the street protests have been seeping into the festive atmosphere. When Rebecca goes into a bathroom and turns on a faucet, she sees that the water has turned green. It’s the same green shade of the paint being used by the protesters. An alarmed Rebecca tells Ivan about this strange and possibly dangerous alteration to their plumbing.
But when they both go in the bathroom to test the water faucet, the water has gone back to normal. Meanwhile, some of the guests arriving have splotches of the green paint on their cars, while a few of the guests have the paint on their clothing and faces, as if they couldn’t avoid getting splattered with the paint. There’s also talk at the party about how hard it was to drive from the airport to the wedding site because of all the police and protesters in the streets.
Before the home invasion, members of the Novelo family are faced with a decision on whether or not to help a former employee. An elderly man named Rolando (played by Eligio Meléndez) shows up at the front gate of the mansion, just a few hours before Marianne is supposed to be getting prepared for the wedding ceremony. Rolando, who hasn’t worked for the Novelo family in eight years, has not been invited to the ceremony, but he’s there to make a desperate request.
Rolando asks to see Rebecca and tells her that his wife Elise needs emergency surgery for a heart valve replacement. Because the protestors have raided the hospitals, Rolando had to take Elise to a private clinic. And the medical expenses will cost 200,000 pesos. With an embarrassed tone of voice, Rolando says that doesn’t have a credit card, so he asks Rebecca to lend him the money.
Rebecca is polite but somewhat dismissive when she tells Rolando that it’s bad timing for him to ask her for money. She tells him to come back the next day. But when Rebecca sees the expression of despair on Rolando’s face, she changes her mind and tells him that she can only give him 35,000 pesos in cash that day and that he can come back for the rest later.
Meanwhile, Daniel and Marianne both find out that Rolando has shown up to ask to borrow money for his wife’s heart surgery. Rolando and his wife Elise were beloved employees who left the employment of the Novelo family on good terms. However, Rolando’s sudden and unannounced appearance at the Novelo family home is awkward because he didn’t keep in touch, and the family hasn’t seen him in several years.
Daniel and Marianne have very different reactions to Rolando’s request to borrow the money. Daniel gets irritated and thinks that Rolando is being too much of a distraction. He goes outside to the gate, gives Rolando the rest of the money, and angrily tells Rolando never to come back. Rolando is grateful but also seems ashamed about alienating Daniel.
Marianne doesn’t know that Daniel had this interaction with Rolando, so she decides she’s going to give Rolando the cash that he needs. When she finds out that Rolando has left the property, she impulsively asks Cristian to go with her by car to Rolando’s home address, which isn’t too far away, so that she can give Rolando the cash herself. Although some viewers might think it’s far-fetched that someone would go to this type of trouble on that person’s wedding day, there are a lot stranger things that have happened in real life.
It can be assumed that Marianne is a very kind-hearted and generous person, so it’s not hard to believe that someone with this type of personality would make this decision. Marianne’s biggest lapse in judgment is not being aware or underestimating how bad the violence was out on the streets. She and Cristian are about to find out the hard way.
Marianne’s decision to leave the mansion just a few hours before her wedding causes some panic with her loved ones. But they don’t think it’s a good idea for any of them to go out and try to find her. They hope she’ll come back in time for the wedding. But then, all hell breaks loose and there’s a massive home invasion.
The rest of “New Order” takes a very dark turn with mayhem that includes kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, torture and murder. Some of the violence is gratuitous when it focuses a little too long on random characters who are never seen in the movie again. And viewers might be divided over a plot development involving ransom money, bounty hunters and how the government handles the chaos.
As believable as the acting is in the movie, one of the flaws of “New Order” is that not enough time is given to get to know any of the characters and their backstories. Marianne seems like a nice person, but her fateful decision to help Rolando and her determination to make it happen (she won’t give up when she and Cristian encounter obstacles on the road) are about all that viewers see of what type of personality she has.
Despite the unrelenting grimness in the last half of the movie, “New Order” isn’t really a rallying cry for one side or the other. It’s more like a wake-up call or a warning. It’s as if writer/director Franco, with all of the movie’s in-your-face and unsettling violence, seems to be saying, “If you think this can’t happen to you, think again.” As troubling as it is to see all the horrific crimes against humanity that are depicted in the movie, it’s a somber reminder that these acts are not an exaggeration of ongoing atrocities and there are worse things in real life that weren’t in this movie.
Neon released “New Order” in select U.S. cinemas on May 21, 2021.