It can sometimes feel that Hold Me Tight coasts by on mood alone, but Amalric maximizes that mode, orchestrating his film’s disorienting tone with virtuosic aplomb.
In Hold Me Tight, the psychology of crisis is made meticulously, eerily atmospheric. Mathieu Amalric’s latest feature contorts reality, inducing a deep, exhaustingly existential sense of estrangement meant to lay bare the unmooring pain of loss. From the outset, the premise appears straightforward. Clarisse (Vicky Krieps) has abandoned her husband, Marc (Arieh Worthalter), and their two children for undisclosed reasons. Following this with scenes of Clarisse on the road, embracing old friends, singing along to the radio, and volunteering, the film initially suggests her flight from domestic life is one of feminist self-discovery and her lingering grief and bitterness are demons she must confront if she’s ever to self-actualize. Closer inspection reveals things are more than they seem. Amalric prompts the viewers’ scrutiny. He utilizes the language of slow cinema to exquisite effect, the deliberateness of every composition almost aggressively pensive. Naturalistic silences become entrancing vacuums. Wide shots and long takes abound — the figures and items in frame arranged with a stage adaptation’s precision — begging us to adopt an observational gaze, to trace and question continuities, to train our attention to the vibrant artificiality of the hyperreal. As the narrative progresses, the boundaries of reality grow increasingly fraught, producing a profound unease, an ever-present tone of precarity threatening to spectacularly collapse.
The style of Hold Me Tight sustains an intensely contemplative mood, one that may strain the patience of certain viewers. Yet this approach draws its ultimate power not from the strength of any technical brilliance but from the fact that it figuratively externalizes the protagonist’s trauma. Krieps’ Clarisse is spiritually broken, a ghostly passenger floating in time, seeking an axis to revive any semblance of stability and meaning. Her strange and desperate behaviors are depicted crudely, testing our sympathies as we contend with our ingrained biases toward the foibles of the “difficult woman.” That she holds on tight to the idea of her family, continuing and growing in her absence, is the great tragedy. It inhibits her progression, entrapping her within a liminal hell where the only source of constancy is her self-destructive guilt. Clarisse’s retreat into ever more fanciful invention belies a need for control that stands in for the closure required for healing. The meandering, disordered flow of events sacrifices narrative thrust to portray a spiral of grief with aching poignance.
In our distance from the characters, however, we coast through Hold Me Tight often on mood alone. Amalric mainly succeeds in channeling an experience, carried by his thorough aesthetic considerations. Clarisse exists as a conduit through which we reflect upon that experience, the textures of her actions and reactions granting us interpretative access to the specifics of her character. The rest of the characters are sketched out less interestingly. Scenes featuring the other family members sans Clarisse can feel leaden aside from their brief emotional flourishes, most often rosy yearning or post-traumatic domestic strife. In crafting this arrested psychological mood, the only progression felt is that of the runtime’s. Once Amalric brings things to a close, matters resolve and it remains unclear what exactly has been learned or gained beyond the most basic lessons. But despite some limitations, Hold Me Tight still works mostly because it knows how to hit its intended notes, doing so with virtuosic aplomb.