“Hold Me Tight” is a beautifully mysterious French tale of grief, guilt, regret and madness. Adapting a play by Claudine Galea, actor-turned-director Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) finds exquisite melancholy in a story of a family that’s been shattered by something.
What that “something” is only becomes clear after we’ve been wholly-engaged and drawn into this sad saga, a film that doles out its clues in tiny doses, leaving some things a mystery which the viewer can only speculate on, further enriching the experience.
A woman (Vicky Krieps of “The Last Vermeer,” “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” and “Phantom Thread”) fumes over Polaroids of her family and then purposefully storms out the door, driving away in an ancient AMC Pacer.
A husband and father (Arieh Worthalter of “The Take” and “Girl”) nags his kids (Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet and Sacha Ardilly) to get ready for school. The complaints and excuses include “I want Mom to make me hot chocolate!”
We follow Mom down the road to a friend’s service station, and beyond. And we see life go on for the family she’s apparently left behind for whatever journey she is impulsively taking — piano practice, meals, work and homework.
Whatever is going on with that family — “You made Mom run away!” and “You BROKE Mom!” are accusations thrown around (in French with English subtitles) — Clarisse is sending signals that point to everything from “flaked out” and “drunk” to “manic” and “certifiable.”
She is a translator, and flips out at a father correcting his son’s behavior in the middle of a port town tour. At a local bar, she is a talkative, clingy tippler whose erratic behavior — drunkenly hugging strange men, wandering up a snowy mountain, burying her face in ice at the fresh seafood market — merits stares and “Are you OK, Ma’am?” questions.
And back home, her son is crawling into a bubble bath in his favorite spaceman costume, his tweenage sister pulling him away from their father since she alone can comfort him.
Something has broken. Someone has left. Lives have been disrupted, if not rent apart.
Amalric keeps his story’s secrets as long as possible, dropping hints and revelations here and there. We glimpse flashbacks to how Clarisse and Marc met, and follow the children’s lives into their teens.
And all along the way, Amalric immerses us in the madness of regret and the futile search for explanations and “closure.”
“Hold Me Tight” (“Serre moi fort”) hangs on our engagement in the mystery, and our empathy for Clarisse. Krieps cagily gives her an air of self-absorption that we wonder might be self-preservation. Whatever is going on with this woman, we fear for her even if empathy is slower coming.
Something happened. Something was irretrievably broken and lost. And it’s entirely possible that “guilt” figures into Clarisse’s manic grief. Krieps makes her journey into this open wound not just intriguing, but heartbreaking.
Rating: unrated, nudity
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Arieh Worthalter, Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet and Sacha Ardilly
Credits: Scripted and directed by Mathieu Amalric, based on a play by Claudine Galea. A Kino Lorber release.
Running time: 1:37