► New Order is in UK cinemas from 13 August.
New Order is the most controversial Latin American film of the year. A prizewinner at Venice, it also attracted a mass audience in its native Mexico, fuelled by social media polemics over its premise of working-class revolt against a white elite. The director, screenwriter and producer Michel Franco is known for minimalist features with a social-realist twist. After Lucía, also a box-office hit, focused on the distressing topic of bullying. For his sixth film Franco chooses a broader canvas: a nightmarish vision that begins with a home invasion at a wealthy wedding, passes through mass insurrection, and ends with military dictatorship and public executions. I recently spoke with Franco from Gothenburg, where he is in post-production for his next film.
One Mexican critic said that New Order is not so much a dystopia as an exaggeration of the present situation in Mexico.
It’s both. It is a dystopia because it makes reference to genre film. And I’m by no means just a festival filmmaker.
New Order begins with a poetic prelude, set to Shostakovich, of enigmatic images linked by the colour green. How do you see the role of poetry in a film which also includes graphic images of violence?
Yes, poetry is very important. For example, in one detail which is never explained, green water flows from the faucet. Violence is vital to art – for example, in Goya, who is my favourite painter – and I’m going for both aspects here.
The shooting style is different to your previous films, with a newly mobile camera.
This was a big change, partly because there are many points of view in the script. My first five movies were shot in similar, slow style. But people don’t know that I’ve also made TV commercials. Normally I don’t like to rehearse, but we needed three weeks for the technically challenging three-minute single take of the house invasion.
There are striking scenes of desolation in well-known Mexico City locations such as the Angel of Independence monument. Were they shot with digital effects?
We filmed as much as we could physically, partly because we didn’t have a huge budget. We blocked Paseo de la Reforma during a holiday and scattered corpses on the ground. This sequence suggests that the film is about the breakdown of a whole country, and we wanted to show as much as we could on our small budget.
The art design features a red, white and green palette, the Mexican national colours. And its last sequence features a billowing Mexican flag and the drums and bugles of the army that raises and lowers that flag, as familiar a scene to local audiences as the Changing of the Guard is to Britons. Yet your film is a coproduction with France and the main character is called Marianne. Who is it addressed to?
New Order is set in Mexico but speaks to many countries. Audiences in the USA tend to mention Black Lives Matter, and in France, the Yellow Vest protesters. Everyone watches the film and thinks, ‘That could be my country.’
Twenty years ago Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también was also much vilified on its release in Mexico, with critics making the mistake of identifying the viewpoint of the characters with that of the film. Something similar seems to have happened with New Order, where some Mexican viewers assume you support the leisure class depicted in it.
In New Order the rich are pawns in a game that everybody loses. As to the criticism, that’s part of the job description and I’m flattered because all filmmakers that I like suffered from controversy. In any case, when New Order was released in Mexico in October 2020, it sold half a million tickets, even with theatres at 20 per cent capacity, the biggest gross since the pandemic began. We could have delayed its release, but it was so topical I wanted it out as soon as possible.
New Order clashes the corrupt against the exploited in a Mexican dystopia
A wedding becomes a riot as society disintegrates around it, in Michel Franco’s provocative and uncompromising vision of late-stage capitalism.
By Maria Delgado
Sign up for Sight & Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin and more
News, reviews and archive features every Friday, and information about our latest magazine once a month.