Hold Me Tight: Mathieu Amalric’s elliptical portrait of loss

Vicky Krieps puts in one of her most compelling performances yet as a mother attempting to process inconsolable grief and guilt.

30 November 2022

By Josh Slater-Williams

Vicky Krieps as Clarisse in Hold Me Tight (2021)
Sight and Sound

Clarisse wakes at dawn, careful not to stir her sleeping husband. She packs a few belongings and takes one last look at her sleeping children; then, deciding against leaving a note, she departs her house. The implication is that she’s abandoning her family, with a surprising giddiness in the car-driving sequences that soon follow. How could someone do this to their loved ones, and with such gleeful abandon? And why might they?

Cutting back and forth between Clarisse (Vicky Krieps)’s new bearings and her family adjusting to the abandonment, Mathieu Amalric’s latest feature as writer-director – based on Claudine Galea’s play Je reviens de loin – seems like it might be one of those disorienting character studies that withholds any semblance of answers until the climax. Instead, Amalric resolves the initial mystery early. It’s near impossible to meaningfully elaborate on what the film is doing without delving into the reveal that comes roughly a third in, so consider this your first-act spoiler warning.

Dating back to at least The Blue Room (2014), there’s been an abstractive streak to Amalric’s directorial efforts, reaching its zenith here. The editing rhythms of the early stretch see multiple timelines, perspectives and (lushly framed) surroundings merge, with what appear to be time-jumps back and forth occurring frequently. It’s not just jumping in time, it turns out, but in reality: at around the half-hour mark, it becomes clear that Clarisse’s family was actually engulfed by an avalanche during a Spanish skiing vacation. Their bodies unrecoverable until spring thaw, the film’s ‘main’ narrative takes place as Clarisse waits the required two months.

Many scenes already shown, and those to come, are Clarisse mentally fabricating an elaborate existence in which her family survived and she’s the absent one. We see them able to move on to an extent; her children grow and fulfil some promise, while Clarisse’s experiences in the waiting period bleed into her family fan-fiction. This is Krieps’s most compelling work since her international breakthrough with Phantom Thread (2017), and even spikier than her acerbic performance in Corsage (2022). Navigating wildly different modes throughout, she veers from despondent to mischievous and petulant, sometimes mere minutes apart.

There’s a touch of Alain Resnais’s Providence (1977) to proceedings, in the confrontation between revised memories and reality. But the storytelling conceit is also like an altogether more insightful, emotionally devastating version of what takes place in the rather more fantastical miniseries WandaVision (2021), another recent portrait of living in dreams we wish were real to offset inconsolable grief and guilt; of mourning that which can never be.

► Hold Me Tight is available to stream on MUBI now.

Other things to explore