“FOR to him that is joined to all the living there is hope,” runs the verse from Ecclesiastes, “for a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Stefan Ebel plays Thomasz, the “living dog” in A New World Order. He is a deserter who, out of necessity, has learned to look out solely for himself.
In the near future, military robots have turned against their makers. The war seems almost over. Perhaps Thomasz has wriggled and dodged his way to the least settled part of the planet (Daniel Raboldt’s debut feature is handsomely shot in Arctic Finland by co-writer Thorsten Franzen). Equally likely is that this is what the whole planet looks like now: trees sweeping in to fill the spaces left by an exterminated humanity.
You might expect the script to make this point clear, but there is no script, or rather, there is no dialogue. The machines (wasp-like drones, elephantine tripods and one magnificent airborne battleship that wouldn’t look out of place in a Marvel movie) target people by listening out for their voices. Consequently, not a word can be exchanged between Thomasz and his captor Lilja, played by Siri Nase.
Lilja takes Thomasz prisoner because she needs his brute strength. A day’s walk away from the questionable safety of her log cabin, there is a burned-out military convoy. Amid the wreckage and bodies, there is a heavy case – and in the case is a tactical nuke. Lilja needs Thomasz’s help in dragging it to where she can detonate it, perhaps bringing down the machines. While Thomasz acts out of fear, Lilja is acting out of despair. Both are reduced to using each other. Both will have to learn to trust again.
“The film’s sound design is striking, even a car’s gear change comes across as an imminent alien threat”
In 2018, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place arrived in cinemas – in which aliens chase down every sound and slaughter its maker. This can’t have been a happy day for the devoted and mostly unpaid German enthusiasts working on A New World Order. But such “silent” movies are no novelty, and theirs has clearly ploughed its own furrow. The film’s sound design, by Sebastian Tarcan, is especially striking, balancing levels so that even a car’s gear change comes across as an imminent alien threat.
Writing a good silent film is something of a lost art. It is much easier for writers to explain their story through dialogue than to propel it through action. Maybe this is why silent film, done well, is such a powerful experience. There is a scene in this movie where Thomasz realises not only that he has to do the courageous thing, but that he is at last capable of doing it. Ebel, on his own on a scree-strewn Finnish hillside, plays the moment to perfection.
Somewhere on this independent film’s long road to distribution – it began life on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2016 – someone decided “A Living Dog” was too obscure a film title for these godless times. It is a pity, I think, and not just because A New World Order, the title picked for UK distribution, manages to be at once pompous and meaningless.
Ebel’s pitch-perfect performance drips guilt and bad conscience. In order to stay alive, he has learned to crawl about the earth. But Lilja’s example, and his own conscience, will turn dog to lion at last, and in a genre that never tires of presenting us with hyper-capable heroes, it is refreshing, on this occasion, to follow the forging of one courageous act.
Simon also recommends…
The Last Battle (1983)
Another debut with no dialogue, this time by Luc Besson. This mysterious, post-apocalyptic adventure, filmed in derelict corners of Paris, conjures up a future in which humanity has lost its powers of speech.
This horror-sci-fi hybrid unpicks the sonic mysteries of a small island in the Gulf of Maine. It is a spine-tingling tale of screams and susurration and all manner of sinister audio wizardry.
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