‘New Order’ is a bullshit snuff film, what the fuck is going on at Venice

Image courtesy Videocine.

1/10 New Order came out of the quiet 2020 film festival circuit heavily decorated with the Grand Jury Prize from the Venice International Film Festival and rapturous marketing that was, if anything, more than proportionate.

If only I’d done a bit of research before walking in.

Mexico City- As a seething mass of poor protestors overtakes the city, blocking infrastructure, murdering and marauding along the way, a rich family holds its wedding as planned, deliberately and forcefully unaware of the chaos until it is upon them. The Mexican army uses the riot as cover to establish a military dictatorship which is worse than the rioters in every way, with the corrupt military kidnapping, raping and murdering at will.

It sure seems like writer/director/editor/producer Michael Franco saw Joker and Parasite, the Golden Lion and Palm d’Orr winners at Venice and Cannes in 2019, respectively, and asked himself, “How could I ruin these?”

The comparison to Joker is especially pertinent because New Order has been facetiously called a sequel to that film, taking the anti-rich riot at the end, resetting it in Mexico City and building it out into a whole movie well, whole-ish. It’s only 88 minutes, but it makes those minutes feel like an eternity in the worst way.

I would also compare this to Come and See, the old Soviet film about the Nazi occupation of Belarus, in that neither of them really have a plot, they’re both just a barrage of violence. But where Come and See applies surrealism, perspective editing, biblical themes and a host of other cinematic techniques to bear for a highly emotionally accurate recreation of what the Nazis did to rural Slavic states as they advanced east, New Order applies essentially no technique to systemic violence that – well, I wouldn’t call it “made up,” but that has a troubling relationship with reality.

The organized violence that we see in New Order, the kidnapping for ransom, rape and murder of basically anyone the Mexican army can get its hands on, is roughly accurate – but not to the army. Kidnapping, primarily to collect ransoms, has been a primary money-making method of cartels for several years now, with particular crisis points closer to the U.S. border and particularly as migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. have been forced to wait on the Mexican side of that border in recent years. Due to both the scale of the problem and endemic corruption in the government, Mexican law enforcement ranges between ignoring this problem to actively participating in it. Mexico’s military has been speculated to get its beak wet as well, but certainly not of enforcing these practices independently.

The first thing to understand about New Order is it’s extremely racist. The film depicts an underclass composed entirely of darker-skinned Mestizo Mexicans rising up against an upper class composed entirely of white Mexicans – Mestizo Mexicans are descended from a mixture of European settlers and American Indians, a racial group that in the U.S. is simply referred to as Hispanic or Latino, whereas “white Mexicans” are lighter-skinned Mexicans with more exclusively or more recently immigrated European ancestry. Lighter-skinned Mexicans tend to have more generational wealth, creating many of the same race/class dynamics we see in the U.S.

Mexican viewers immediately pegged the racial animus New Order was selling and excoriated it on social media. Franco, who is a white Mexican, then claimed he was being targeted by “reverse racism” and made everything worse. He would later claim to not have known the history behind that term, which is laughable given both how precisely he incorporates other elements with racist history and his own personal history of making deliberately inflammatory movies, usually by including graphic sexual violence as an intensifier.

Despite being set in and ostensibly about Mexico, New Order feels distinctly aimed at American viewers, much like Parasite two years ago. Its English title alone, New Order, feels like a nod to “New World Order,” the term for the endgame of a wide variety of conspiracy theories about some type of totalitarian cabal, usually “the Jews,” secretly taking over the world, which has most recently been incorporated into the Qanon mass delusion, which has a strong overlap with historic anti-Semitism. It features not one, but two proposed apocalypses – both the poor minorities rising up to kill all the rich whites and the military using lawlessness as a blind to establish a dictatorship.

The ideas of these as related occurrences feels like a fictionalized version of American unrest in 2020 when the Trump administration used protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder as testing grounds for how much they could get away with in regard to violent suppression of dissent, deploying unmarked law enforcement agents and frequently threatening to invoke the insurrection act against demonstrators. Franco doesn’t seem to understand the point New Order is making in this way. He’s taken the vague fears of someone who doesn’t really understand these events and formed them into a movie that feels like a paranoid dream of these events. It is a particularly awful feeling to see such a shapeless and clearly uninformed vision of civil unrest, especially driven by poor and brown-skinned people, just a few months after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Walking out of the theater, we pass by the open door of a showing of The Unholy that’s nearing its scream-filled climax, and I wonder what the movies have become. Misery seems to be the default emotion, the only way to get any point across. This sort of lowest-common-denominator has always existed in every art form, and it doesn’t usually bother me, it’s just a bummer to be reminded of immediately after walking out of the assault that is New Order.

The comparison to Joker is even more pertinent because both of these horribly irresponsible and misguided, if technically well-crafted, films came highly acclaimed out of the Venice Film Festival. Joker played deliberately and directly toward an increasingly dangerous sect of young men, and I’ve thought for a while that its recognition internationally had something to do with the fact that mass shootings and “incels” are almost exclusively American problems. But now they’ve given the same award to New Order, which was similarly met with fervent backlash in its home country and displays a similar confusion about the politics it adapts to the screen. As fascism rises around the globe, it’s a troubling trend for a top-level film festival that has fallen under its sway before.

It’s a bit of a pity that New Order is so racist because, when we’re not fiddling with who pays for what health care, it sort of works. As this invincible tide of humans, all the same color – not their skin, but the dark green paint they use to demarcate themselves – rising up against the elite as they continue their little party in willful ignorance until they’re already invaded washes over the screen, it’s hard not to think of global warming, the flareup of violence in occupied Palestine that was concurrent with New Order’s American release or similar uprisings from other oppressed groups

Could Franco have made a poignant movie about racial tensions in Mexico, the apathy of extreme wealth or corruption in the Mexican military? Of course! But that’s not what he wanted to do. He wanted to make a terrible snuff film that will ruin your birthday, ruin your dinner plans, ruin your entire trip to Houston, and that’s what he did. New Order is an awful, boring and bad film that you will deeply regret making time for. Avoid it at any cost.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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