NEW ORDER (2021)

May 20, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. “You say you want a revolution … well, you know … we all want to change the world.” Writer-director Michel Franco hits head-on the always hot, and very current topic of the haves versus the have-nots, and I immediately thought of those Beatles’ lyrics.

Chaos at a hospital and a pile of bodies informs us trouble is brewing on the streets of Mexico. We then cut to a lavish wedding event being held at the luxurious residential compound of the Novellos, a wealthy family whose daughter Marianne (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) is marrying her fiancé Alan (Dario Azbek). Her father Ivan (Roberto Medina) is an important businessman who invited other important people and dignitaries. As the attendees mingle, her mother Rebecca (Lisa Owen) is summoned to the gate to meet with Ronaldo (Eligio Melendez), a former employee who is asking for the money to pay for a surgery his ill wife needs. What follows is the mannered way in which the Novellos react. They give Ronaldo some money, but it’s far short of the amount needed. It’s Marianne who, even on her wedding day, tries desperately to help him.

Marianne has Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), the son of loyal housekeeper Marta (Monica Del Carman), drive her to where Ronaldo lives. Unbeknownst to Marianne, an insurgence has disrupted the wedding festivities and carnage has ensued at her house. Upon arrival at Ronaldo’s house, masked soldiers take Marianne hostage. Her vibrant red outfit and the green paint used by protesters provide symmetry to the national flag of Mexico as the streets are under siege. Many of the elite rich have been killed, while others taken hostage for ransom and torture. Filmmaker Franco expertly captures the frenzy and terror brought on by the revolution.

As the uprising takes hold and the coup progresses, we quickly see the effects of power and greed. Most of the story is told from the viewpoint of the privileged, and that’s likely to offend many. At times we are confused about just how many sides there are in this war, though it seems Franco’s point is that there are no good guys. The film teeters on the line between social commentary and exploitation, due to the violence and greed – we even see the glee on a maid’s face as she loots the valuables from her employer. We find little empathy for anyone here, except of course, for those being held captive and tortured. Certain elements thrive in chaos, and the situation turns to Authoritarianism. The cynical message is that entitlement and corruption exist regardless who is in charge. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The “New Order” is the same as the old – just with new faces. Franco has highlighted unrest specific to Mexico, but also nods to global issues.

“You say you got a real solution … well, you know … we’d all love to see the plan.”

Releasing in theaters on May 21, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


SOUTH MOUNTAIN (2020)

May 4, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The grill is fired up and the beer is cold. Friends and family are gathered in the Catskills. Everything seems pretty normal until writer Edgar (Scott Cohen) sneaks off to take a “work” call in the privacy of a back room. We see the reality of his FaceTime call with his mistress Gemma (Isis Massoud), who is in full baby delivery mode. Edgar talks her through it as the midwife does her thing. The delivery and baby are so realistic that I’m fairly certain writer-director Hilary Brougher has included actual footage.

Talia Balsam stars as Edgar’s wife Lila, an artist and teacher. There is a sadness connected to Lila, and it hovers like a curse. Her initial reaction to being told that Edgar is leaving her for a new life is little more than resignation to her own life where she seems to regularly get the short end. Edgar and Lila have a teenage daughter Dara (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), and daughter Sam (Macaulee Cassady) from Edgar’s first marriage. We learn that Talia has previously endured Edgar’s wanderings, though not always gracefully. She also wonders why people are constantly leaving her – a fact of life as kids grow older.

Filmmaker Brougher counts off the days in the corner of the screen for us, and it’s helpful as time jumps a bit … although most days seem eerily similar even after Edgar leaves (he’s still around a lot). This plays out like a passive-aggressive break-up, save for one unpredictable lash-out from Lila – one that is likely a frequent fantasy of wronged spouses. Lila’s close friend Gigi (Andrus Nichols) has breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy, and her son Jake (Guthrie Mass) and daughter Charlotte (Violet Rea) add to the teenage angst we see from Dara and Sam. Sam’s friend Jonah (Michael Oberholtzer) has a key role as well – one that starts with sharing a sauna with Lila, and ends where you would imagine.

There is no shortage of movies or real life stories of middle-aged men starting over and “women of a certain age” are left to figure things out. Ties of a long-term marriage run deep and aren’t easily or cleanly severed; and kids, regardless of age, don’t always understand how to be supportive. Cinematographer Ethan Mass (husband to Ms. Brougher) does a terrific job with the visual landscape, as the claustrophobia of the house gives way to the stunning beauty of nature. The acting is superb throughout, and Ms. Balsam (daughter of Martin Balsam and Joyce Van Patten) excels in a rare leading role. If only the material were a bit more complex, she could be in awards consideration. Unfortunately, the restrained storytelling prevents us from connecting to Lila, despite the best efforts of Ms. Balsam. It’s clear Hilary Brougher is a filmmaker with talent, but the message that life goes on, no matter the inconveniences or heartbreaks, is just a bit too familiar and low key.

available VOD May 5, 2020

watch the trailer: