She’s leaving home. First, she dresses; then, she gathers her things. It’s early, and she moves through each room as if she’s not there. She tries to be quiet, but she also bumps into the piano. No one seems to notice or stir. They’re all sleeping, save for the youngest child, who spies on her with one eye open but pretends to be asleep when she enters the room. As far as he’s concerned, she might as well be a ghost.
Hold Me Tight (Serre moi fort), from director Mathieu Amalric, is kind of like a ghost story—it just doesn’t unfold the way you’d expect. No, I’m not giving anything away here: You start to expect something is amiss within minutes. Amalric presents Clarisse (Vicky Krieps), the she of the top, as someone displaced. The story is now, but her home is from the 18th century, her car from the late 1970s. Clarisse seems to inhabit some sort of phantom realm parallel to her family: husband Marc (Arieh Worthalter), daughter Lucie (Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet), and son Paul (Sacha Ardilly). Marc is of the hunky outdoorsy sort, Lucie is a gifted pianist on her way to the Paris conservatory, and Paul plays hockey. There’s a tension in the marriage that the children can sense, but Amalric is playing coy. There are moments of detached romance and abrupt outbursts but little else. It’s conflict by implication.
Amalric is Hold Me Tight’s unreliable narrator. Working from Claudine Galea’s play, Je reviens de loin, Amalric relies on shorthand and atmospheric moments to give the impression of something fuller. Clarisse is driving somewhere—a chateau high in the mountains, maybe?—but the movie lacked an engine. Krieps is believable as a soul unraveling, but we have so little of a base to mourn that there isn’t much emotion behind watching the ends fray. We can tell something has hurt Clarisse very, very deeply, but not what. When Amalric finally reveals that what, it comes too late. It’s as if he’s castigating us for not caring about her plight more. I am often sympathetic to people I meet who are jerks when I find out why they are jerks. But I am less sympathetic to people who act like jerks when they could just as easily talk about what’s going on. Hold Me Tight is like spending 90-odd minutes with the latter.
Hold Me Tight / Serre moi fort (2021)
Written and directed by Mathieu Amalric
Based on the play Je reviens de loin by Claudine Galea
Produced by Yael Fogiel, Laetitia Gonzalez, Felix von Boehm
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Arieh Worthalter, Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet, Sacha Ardilly, Juliette Benveniste, Aurèle Grzesik
Kino Lorber, Not rated, Running time 97 minutes, Opens Sept. 16, 2022.