Law and morality do not always go hand in hand. Even if the law of the land limits certain actions, our morality may make us consider different perspectives. Andre Téchiné’s “My New Friends” (Original title: “Les gens d’à côté”) explores a similar ideological conflict. The protagonist – Lucie (Isabelle Huppert), is a police officer with years of experience under her belt. She was in a loving relationship with a black man – who is no longer with her. At times, she recalls the joyful days she spent with him.

In her solitary life comes a day when she meets her new neighbors – a young couple – Julia (Hafsia Herzia), Yann (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), and their daughter. Lucie befriends Julia and finds comfort in her company. As their friendship develops, Lucie learns more about Julia’s personal life. Julia’s partner, Yann, is an artist who is already acclaimed. Still, he does not attend his own painting exhibition. The organizers refrain from mentioning the actual reason and come up with a diplomatic response.

Soon after, Lucie learns the fact that Yann has a heavy criminal record and shares revolutionary ideas. Because of this, he cannot leave the immediate premises of his house. As a police officer, she must inform her senior officials about his presence and plans. However, she finds it difficult to act stoically as she is expected to. She faces a moral conflict from her desire to help this family. Along the way, she also learns Yann and Julia’s personal histories.

Julia had to leave her parents and her emotional past behind to be with Yann. Lucie feels bad for Julia and believes she is living under the burden of Yann’s endless, idealistic pursuit. In this situation, Lucie hopes to be of help to Julia. From hiding her professional identity to confronting Yann for his ideals, she keeps jumping back and forth between acting upon her shifting sense of morality. She tries to talk sense into him about how his journey affects those he loves – the ones who depend on him for emotional and/or financial support. As the plot progresses, we witness Lucie’s turmoil being explored till the very end of the film.

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My New Friends (2024) 'Berlinale' Movie Review
A still from “My New Friends” (2024)

By keeping Huppert’s character as the central and most-explored character of the story, “My New Friends” feels more like a savior narrative than anything else. In the recent past, we have seen multiple iterations of such narratives with differing proportions of a savior complex. The most recent example would be “Killers of the Flower Moon,” where the native Americans spoke out about the filmmaker’s decision to put despicable white characters at the film’s center – instead of those who were exploited. The well-known Oscar wins of “Green Book,” “The Blind Side,” and “Crash” reflect a mindset that rewards self-gratification for charitable actions. Neither “Killers of the Flower Moon” nor ‘My New Friends’ are bad films by any means. “KOTFM” is a wonderfully made film that presents an invigorating exploration of guilt.

However, Andre Téchiné’s “My New Friends” falls short in this regard for multiple reasons. Cinematically, the film doesn’t do anything particularly striking. It plays out similarly as many dialogue-driven French films do. On a script level, it lacks a deeper insight into its core subject. While intended to be about people on the fringes of society, it focuses almost entirely on the central character’s emotional pain and struggle. The relationship between Huppert’s character and her neighboring family feels undercooked, even if the performances make us think otherwise.

The primary issue with “My New Friends” is the lens through which it focuses on its subject matter. We see Julia’s life only through Lucie’s perspective. It limits our understanding of her life because we rarely see her as someone living beyond Hupert’s character’s prism and gaining an identity. Yann is also shown through fragments of his rebellious ideas. All of this makes it difficult to be emotionally invested in their lives as deeply as the film expects us to.

My New Friends premiered at the Berlinale Film Festival 2024.

My New Friends (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of My New Friends (2024) Movie: Isabelle Huppert, Hafsia Herzi, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Stéphane Rideau, Moustapha Mbengue
My New Friends (2024) Movie Genre: Drama, Runtime:1h 25m

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