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New Order – Michel Franco2
Courtesy of MUBI

Michel Franco: ‘People want to believe we live in Disneyland’

New Order is a brutal class war thriller set in a bloody and extreme uprising in Mexico – here, the filmmaker discusses class struggle, violence on screen, and the Bong Joon-Ho comparisons

If there was a word to describe Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco’s New Order it would be: nightmarish. The cultural provocateur’s latest offering tells the story of a class uprising somewhere in Mexico. At 86 minutes, it’s a short but brutal snapshot of social and political unrest that gets bloodier and more extreme at every turn. Awarded the runner-up Silver Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, the film has garnered comparisons to Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite for its depiction of class struggle. But don’t be fooled: there’s no subtlety or humour to Franco’s provocations.

“People need to see today’s world on screen as if it was a mirror,” Franco tells Dazed over Zoom. “Bong Joon Ho made his film with more humour than I did. Mine’s drier, but in many ways, they speak to each other.”

New Order opens on the grounds of a wealthy estate, where Mexico’s one per cent have gathered for the lavish wedding of Marianne (Naian González Norvind) to the successful Alan (Darío Yazbek Bernal). It’s a classy affair with stylishly dressed guests and luxury cars, a modernist showroom of privilege backtracked forebodingly by the grandiose music of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

We’re told that violent protests have erupted all across the city. Guests have been accosted en route and activists are splashing green paint everywhere. It’s not long before a mob of armed intruders invade the house and start gunning down the guests. The high society event quickly devolves into a bloody showdown of class resentment and violence.

“It’s a very chaotic film and I intended to build such chaos,” Franco explains. “We are living in a chaotic world and we want to trick ourselves into thinking it’s not like that. Especially for those who live privileged lives, we tend to forget how the real world is and how a majority of people are living.” 

Missing the bloodshed is bride-to-be Marianne, when a run-in with a former servant sends her out onto the streets on a mission to pay for his dying wife’s hospital operation. A gruesome spectacle of riot, mass murder, and unspeakable torture on par to Picasso’s Guernica plays out, surmounting in Marianne’s own abduction by a sadistic and corrupt military faction – which, it turns out, have been behind the revolution all along.

Franco’s portrayal of violence, the heavy-loaded imagery of piling corpses and sexual assault, is brutal to watch. But he disagrees: “I think the violence is underplayed,” he asserts. “I can understand how unpleasant it is to watch but, to look at recent history, I was a teenager when the war happened in Sarajevo and it went on for years. Women were raped, snipers were aimed at civilians every day, and the world did nothing.”

It was the rise of the extreme right across the world that spurred Franco to begin work on the film nine years ago. But the film feels especially pertinent in a year where pandemic-driven inequality has further highlighted the gap between rich and poor countries. “Without empathy and without acknowledging that people are not having their basic needs met, one day things will reach this point,” he explains. “Maybe not as extreme as I portray, but I think we’re headed in the wrong direction.”

He insists the film is a “cautionary tale”, warning viewers of the dangers ahead if we continue to ignore those in need. “People want to believe we’re in Disneyland and that everything’s fine,” he says. “Some people in Mexico want to believe that we’re not headed in the wrong direction, because it’s convenient for them to think so.”

Back in October, the film’s initial trailer sparked outrage in Franco’s native Mexico, with people accusing the director of racism and classism for his depiction of a darker-skinner underclass revolting against the light-skinned elite. “I’m flattered,” he says of the backlash. “A movie that’s trying to be more than entertaining should trigger that kind of reaction.”

“People don’t read books but they watch movies. And if you make a movie that’s entertaining, then people turn and pay attention, and sometimes they’re angry about what the movie portrays” – Michel Franco

Whether you’re a fan of Franco’s provocations or not, he sees film as an effective medium to share his message. “People don’t read books but they watch movies. And if you make a movie that’s entertaining, then people turn and pay attention, and sometimes they’re angry about what the movie portrays,” he explains. “The main idea is that we do not arrive at this point.”

New Order is at UK cinemas from August 13