Michel Franco’s ‘New Order’ Boosts Mexican Box Office, Challenges for Oscar Contention (EXCLUSIVE)

John Hopewell
·5-min read

Michel Franco’s Venice winner “New Order” (“Nueva Orden”) has scored over 330,000 admissions and $950,000 in Mexico off an Oct. 22 bow, according to Comscore.

Released by Televisa’s Videocine distrib label, that box office would be notable in any normal circumstance, given that “New Order,” an often shocking dystopian thriller, is by no stretch of the imagination a comedy nor entertainment for all the family, Mexico’s box office staples.

It’s all the more an extraordinary feat for a Mexican movie during COVID-19 when box office is tracking at some 15%-20% of its full-on power before pandemia.

“It is satisfying to see brave releases that are helping the market and attracting audiences to cinemas,” said Comscore’s Luis Vargas.

Topping Mexico’s box office on release, “New Order’s” domestic box office run is also a good way of showing the distributors who have bought the film for release in 48 territories around the world that the title can function with a cinema theater audience, Franco noted.

It will certainly strengthen the director’s hand as he challenges for selection as Mexico’s submission for the International Feature Academy Award, in what looks like one of the hardest fought of early battles in 2021’s Academy Awards.

In other years, “New Order’s” candidature might have been a shoo in.

World premiering at Venice this September, “New Order” went on to take a Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize, its second biggest plaudit.

Four times since 2013, a Mexican director who has opened or competed at Venice has gone on to Oscar glory: Alfonso Cuarón’s with 2013’s “Gravity” and “Roma” in 2018, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 “Birdman or (“The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” and Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.”

“New Order” has also been acquired for distribution in North America by Neon, the very U.S. distributor which, off the back of a Cannes Palme d’Or win, helped nurse “Parasite” to become the first non-English language films in Academy Awards history to win best picture.

“New Order” is also unquestionably timely, the first direct social verdict on Franco’s homeland and many parts of the world from a three-times Cannes winner, with “After Lucia,” “Chronic,” with Tim Roth, and “April’s Daughter.”

It begins with protestors, in green paint, bursting into a swanky wedding peopled by Mexico’s indecently rich. But this is a merciless — being Franco — near-future dystopia, a class-gulf cautionary parable at the way the world is threatening to go.

So instead of daubing the villa green, the protestors rob the guests, then shoot many dead. What follows, after riots rage across Mexico City, is a military clampdown that is much more ghastly in its heartless extortion, torture, rape and murder than the regime it replaced.

“Protesters have been saying for decades, hundreds of years: ‘Here we are. We need to heard.’ But nobody has really listened. That’s why they explode,” Franco told Variety before the Venice world premiere.

Neon is convinced that it could score an Oscar nomination for international feature with “New Order,” Franco said. First of all, however, it has to qualify as Mexico’s entry for the race.

That’s no cake walk.

“‘New Order’ has proved it works well with audiences. It is reactivating Mexico’s industry. Venice has begun many films’ road to the Oscars,” Franco argued.

Facing off with “New Order,” however, as finalists on a six-title short list announced by Mexico’s Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMACC) are five more films: Xavi Sala’s “Guie’dani’s Navel”; “I Carry You With Me,” a double Sundance Next! winner, picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, from U.S. director Heidi Ewing; Fernando Frías’ “I’m No Longer Here,” now playing on Netflix; Hari Sama’s Sundance selected “This Is Not Berlin”; and “Workforce,” by David Zonana, produced by Franco and world premiering last year at Toronto’s Platform.

All five have something going for them, sometimes a lot. Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, for instance, have already talked glowingly about Frias’ ultimately heart-wrenching take on immigration and identity, which follows a young Cholombiano, Ulises, a dance fanatic of slowed Cumbia, as he flees gang wars in Monterrey to land in New York’s Queens. There his looks and dance are mocked or misinterpreted as a fashion fad. For Ulises, however, they’re part of his inner being.

A standout even before it hit Los Cabos Work in Progress in 2018, the Netflix title won best picture and the Audience Award at 2019’s Morelia Festival, and then burst fully onto a wider radar sweeping 10 prizes at the Mexican Academy’s Ariel Awards in late September. It has already been selected to represent Mexico at Spain’s Goya Academy Awards.

For Franco, the Academy, should think what kind of Mexican cinema it really wants. “We can’t let all our industry fall into the hands of the streaming platforms, that they decide totally what cinema is made in Mexico,” he said.

He adds: “There should be some balance [and support for] a Mexican film that follows the traditional route of distribution in cinema theaters. We have to battle for cinema to be seen in cinema theaters.”

AMACC will choose its Oscar submission later this week. The battle royale is proof of the invigorating breadth and vibrancy of current Mexican cinema at a time when Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a move in May to abolish Foprocine, the government’s main direct investment fund for Mexican film. He received immediate push back from Iñarritu, Cuarón and Del Toro and desisted.

If the move had gone through, Mexican cinema would have been even more in the hands of streaming platforms, whose distribution is already one of the only ways for the producers of smaller artistically ambitious films like “I’m No Longer Here” to see real money revenues.

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