This review originally ran as part of Paste’s coverage of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
A woman (Vicky Krieps) gets up, collects her things and leaves her family in a reckless hurry. She embarks on a road trip in the red family car and imagines what her family members are doing in her absence. As she drives toward the sea, Clarisse imagines herself encouraging her daughter Lucie (Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet) as she practices piano, watching her son Paul (Sacha Ardilly) measure his growing height and speaking to her husband (Arieh Worthalter) of love and loss in hushed tones. Sometimes they speak back to her and sometimes they don’t, as the line between what is real, imagined and mere memory becomes deliriously blurrier.
“Who are you speaking to?” Paul asks his father. “No one.” “But you’re talking!” Are husband and wife communicating telepathically, across the universe? Is it all in her head?
Adapted from Claudine Galea’s unproduced play, Hold Me Tight is a visual and sonic poem that expresses the intricacies of how we communicate with loved ones across time, space, grief and memory. It is a true artistic accomplishment that writer/director Mathieu Amalric was able to take Galea’s text, originally meant for the stage, and spin it into a vivid piece with such a uniquely lush cinematic language. Amalric’s formal risks emotionally pay off tenfold each time a visual or auditory motif is repeated—such as falling snow or Lucie’s piano music.
Masterful match cuts rhythmically transport Clarisse to another time and place, one in which she can imagine how her children are feeling without her. Paul, covered in bubble bath evoking vital memories of tragic snowfall, accuses his father after he’s thrown away all of Clarisse’s cosmetics and clothing: “You threw mom away!” Distinguished cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne’s eerie handheld shots turn seemingly banal moments of everyday life into silky epiphanies caught in amber.
Superb performances from all four leads elevate Hold Me Tight’s emotional avalanche, but Krieps’ performance is a standout in its profound, elegiac devastation—one not seen since Juliette Binoche’s turn as a grieving woman in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue. Amalric knew he wanted Krieps for the role ever since—as the filmmaker explained at a Lincoln Center post-screening Q&A—he saw her “walk through that door and take Daniel Day-Lewis’ order,” in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Grounded yet imaginative in her desolation, Krieps brings a soft yet strong benevolence to the role even in the woman’s darker moments of anguish.
An enigmatic revelation about a woman’s descent into grief-stricken madness, Hold Me Tight packs an agonizingly painful wallop in the form of a complete reversal which would not work without Krieps’ deft skills or Amalric’s confident audiovisual risks. Right when the audience believes they’ve grasped Hold Me Tight’s dreamy threads, the film shifts into something totally new and nightmarish, yet still cohesive with the emotionally forthright throughline of the film overall.
Director: Mathieu Amalric
Writer: Mathieu Amalric
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Arieh Worthalter, Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet, Sacha Ardilly
Release Date: March 6, 2022 (Lincoln Center)
Brooklyn-based film writer Katarina Docalovich was raised in an independent video store and never really left. Her passions include sipping lime seltzer, trying on perfume and spending hours theorizing about Survivor. You can find her scattered thoughts as well as her writing on Twitter.