Vicky Krieps shines in her latest role, as a wife and mother who abandons her family for mysterious reasons.
There’s a mystery at the heart of Hold Me Tight, the latest film from French director Mathieu Almaric, adapted by him from a play by Claudine Galéa. The story opens with Clarisse, a wife and mother played by Vicky Krieps, playing some kind of card game with a deck of Polaroid photos spread out on her bed. Then she goes to her children’s bedroom and looks at her two pre-teen kids, Lucie and Paul, sleeping. She packs a bag, sneaks out of the house, backs an old car out of the garage, and drives away. Gradually we learn, just from her self-talk, that she’s leaving for good. But we don’t know why.
Almaric has made his name as an actor in over 100 films and TV shows, a familiar face in French film, and then internationally, with roles in films by Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, and others, including playing a villain in one of the James Bond movies. But all this time, he’s also been directing, with over 20 features and shorts since 1990. As a director he demonstrates a real affinity with actors, as you might expect, allowing them to participate in the invention and elaboration of characters. And he specializes in depicting unstable subjective points of view, with a flowing, wandering camera that might seem aimless at first but eventually reveals an inner logic. He made the right choice of actress: Krieps is a sensitive performer with a wide yet subtle range of expression. And this is one of her best so far.
While driving, Clarisse listens to a recording of her daughter Lucie practicing piano. She smokes cigarettes, laughs, and seems to talk directly to her daughter. Flash back to scenes of Lucie playing at home, with Clarisse talking with her husband and their son looking on. As the film goes on, we continue to have these fragmentary flashbacks. It seemed to be a happy family. On the other hand, the parents do quarrel, although that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, really.
Clarisse’s journey doesn’t seem to have a direction. We see her in a roadside bar, for instance, just listening to the idle chatter of the customers. Increasingly, instead of flashbacks, we see Clarisse’s family as it continues to go through life without her. The kids get older; Lucie becomes a teenager and has an opportunity to perform in a piano competition. Strangely, Clarisse’s husband never makes an attempt to find her. It’s as if he already knows that there’s no point in looking, because their relationship has gone past a point of no return. Then we find it difficult to distinguish reality from imagination: Clarisse seems to see all these things that are happening without her, but how can that be?
The solution to the mystery begins to be revealed about half-way through, yet the odd thing is that the film stays suspenseful. It doesn’t really matter that we know the secret now. The point is to display this person’s free floating awareness cinematically, in a direct way, without distance. We’ve been brought into the fragile consciousness of Clarisse, a woman of constantly shifting thoughts and emotions. The picture becomes a spellbinder because of the masterful performance of Vicky Krieps. There’s a sea of emotion rolling inside her, expressed by her face in precise and delicate moments of wonder, sadness, fear, enjoyment, amusement, and confusion. Krieps goes all the way in every word and action in this film—she does not hold back.
Yes, there is a secret to Hold Me Tight that I won’t give away—so what I will tell you is: this movie captures an emotional truth that pierces the heart.