Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Hold Me Tight gives you its operating system in its opening image: a woman playing some kind of private variation on Concentration with a bunch of Polaroids laid out in front of her. She turns them over, perhaps trying to make a match—these are family photographs, including a husband and two children—and finally gives up in anger, throwing the pictures in a jumble. Is this image just a little too on-the-nose for the fragmented movie we are about to watch? Maybe. And maybe that’s why Hold Me Tight tends to stay one-dimensional in nature, even if its world opens up and tantalizes as it goes on.
At first, we enter the jumble: The woman, Clarisse (Vicky Krieps), quietly leaves her family home in a small French city at dawn. She takes her husband’s vintage AMC station wagon (it plays a role nearly as important as the Saab in Drive My Car—another movie named for a Beatles song!) and drives away. She says something about going to the beach, but the journey seems to go on without end or final destination. Meanwhile, we see glimpses of the family she left behind, as husband Marc (Arieh Worthalter) fumblingly corrals a gifted piano-playing daughter and a rascally son. The pieces of the film appear unmoored in time, like photographs tossed in the air.
During these early reels, Hold Me Tight has the feeling (and even the look, in Christophe Beaucarne’s cinematography) of a 70s American-cinema road journey, like Barbara Loden’s Wanda or Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, but without much urgency. Sometime before the halfway point we get information that leads us to a new way of thinking about what’s going on, without exactly clearing anything up. At that point Hold Me Tight becomes something else, and the scenes become more charged with—well, I don’t want to give too much away. The director, the indispensable French actor Mathieu Amalric, is very precise in his way of seeing, which suits a movie that can’t escape being vague about its reality.
I think he brings it off, or at least provides enough material and suggestion to fuel some après-film conversation. Vicky Krieps, who came to prominence as Daniel Day-Lewis’s match in Phantom Thread, holds the center, her reserved presence appropriate for someone whose interior life—even though it might be dictating what we’re watching onscreen—should remain mysterious. Krieps’ face has a kind of scrubbed blankness that gives way when Clarisse gets tipsy, resulting in a couple of memorable but curious sequences. Mostly Clarisse is a woman in car, passing, it seems, through the twilight zone, like Inger Stevens in that TZ episode “The Hitchhiker,” although Clarisse can’t find anybody to pick up along the way, however desperately she searches.
Hold Me Tight opens at SIFF Cinema Uptown this weekend.
September 9, 2022
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.