' ' Cinema Romantico: New Order

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

New Order

“New Order” opens with the wedding of Marianne (Naian González Norvind), daughter of wealthy, connected Ivan (Roberto Medina), but set against the backdrop of chaos in the streets of Mexico City where protestors splatter cars and passersby with green paint, suggesting the green slime of Nickelodeon’s “You Can’t Do That on Television” repurposed for a revolution that will not be televised. But if these protests are not far from Ivan’s home, green paint even running from the bathroom faucets, the wedding celebrants are not so much indifferent to what’s happening outside as oblivious, cocooned within the walls, superficially protected by their status. The walls are eventually broached, of course, by the protestors outside, and the tables violently turned, if only briefly. The New Order, it turns out, in the kind of reactionary piffle director Michel Franco mistakes for something clear-eyed and significant, is the same as the Old Order. What a novel twist!

The set-up, at least, is impressive, with Franco and cinematographer Yves Cape’s elegant handheld camera work introducing us to an entire ecosystem, conspicuously color-coded in the light-skinned mingling, drinking elites and the dark-skinned help, a closet safe becoming something like the sequence’s metronome and heartbeat, with matriarch Rebecca (Lisa Owen) returning to it again and again, the substantial funds stashed inside suggesting the headwaters from which everything else we glimpse flows. Indeed, Rolando (Eligio Meléndez), an ex-employee of the family, shows up uninvited outside their home, begging for a loan on behalf of his sick wife. If Rebecca is sympathetic, she also insists there is only so much cash to go around, giving him some but nowhere near enough. When she goes back inside, the camera is shrewdly positioned over Rolando’s shoulder, still outside the home, impeccably framing how his quiet desperation is wholly dependent upon the whims of the wealthy. This shot pairs perfectly with one a little later after the menacing protestors have interrupted by the party by scaling the walls. At first, you don’t even see these interlopers; you just see Ivan, standing fast, staring straight head. Then, the camera circles around behind him to reveal the protestors, looking almost like the undead, though Ivan’s posture remains noticeably resolute, someone who inherently assumes he is safe, that the security in his employ will clean up this mess, only to be figuratively stabbed in the back, the camera’s fluidity denoting the shifting power dynamics. 

But the latter sequence is also emblematic of how “New Order” chooses to see these dissidents – that is, not seeing them at all. If the set-up suggests the predominant point-of-view might shift to Ivan’s workers, after the initial blast of insurrection, they are almost entirely jettisoned from the picture. The remainder of the revolutionaries, meanwhile, never have a point-of-view at all, reduced to a faceless mob of violent looters. That does not have to be a bad thing. Why Claudio’s wife’s dire straits are evoked as being a side-effect of the uprising, briefly hinting at an All Sides perspective. Ah, but All Sides is always mere code for One Side and in virtually removing the underclass from the proceedings, Franco is generally sticking to One Side, blatantly giving away the game. 

If Rebecca only helps Claudio as much as she can, which isn’t that much, and if Marianne’s cocky brother Daniel (Diego Boneta) essentially tells Claudio to split, Marianne installs herself as his potential savior, leaving her own wedding in the company of Claudio’s nephew Cristian (Fernando Cuautle) to go to the hospital in hopes of providing the necessary financial aid. They never make it, sidetracked by the protests boiling over into anarchy, as Marianne hides out with Cristian and his mother and then eventually is taken prisoner by the totalitarian military in an extortion scheme. The brutal, sadistic, unrelenting violence here is the kind liable to make a certain sort of reviewer satisfactorily proclaim “That’s the point.” Sure is! 

In seeing this torture through Marianne’s eyes, we are inherently drawn to her side. Franco doesn’t even have the courage to stick Daniel in the clink with her, either as an appeal to our inherent humanity or to tempt our darker impulses. Cristian, meanwhile, and his mother, enlisted as the go-between for the military and Marianne’s family for an eternally escalating ransom are hung out to dry, not just by the characters but the movie itself. They are rendered as silent, virtually unthinking, quietly sitting down to dinner while chaos swirls, deliberately stripped of any humanity, transformed into nothing more than Franco’s unwitting pawns. Their fate beams in the message loud and clear: this is what happens when you get involved.

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