Release Date(s)2021 (November 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Gaumont (Kino Lorber)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
A pointlessly confusing approach severely damages the promise of Hold Me Tight (Serre Moi Fort), a cryptic family drama written and directed by Mathieu Amalric, the French actor familiar to American audiences for his roles in Quantum of Solace, Munich, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and, more recently, on the excellent French TV spy series The Bureau.
The film begins with Clarisse (Vicky Krieps) abandoning her family in Ganties—husband Marc (Arieh Worthalter) and their two children, an older girl and younger boy—stealing away in the pre-dawn hours. As Marc struggles to care for the children, Clarisse drives aimlessly across the French countryside, eventually spending time at a mountain resort in Catalonia, Spain.
However, the audience watching the film gradually realizes that what they’re seeing is a fragmented narrative composed almost entirely of flashbacks, present-day scenes, flash-forwards, and that some of this material exists only within Clarisse’s mentally-emotionally traumatized imagination, impressions of family scenes and footage of Clarisse on the road talking and/or thinking to herself. At one point, on the highway, she blurts out “What?” to no one but herself in resigned exasperation, a sentiment shared by Hold Me Tight’s audience.
Some fine films have been made using non-linear narratives—Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road and George Roy Hill’s adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five to name two. And there have been excellent, puzzle-type films working from similar premises, such as Stuart Cooper’s underrated Canadian film The Disappearance and René Clément’s The Deadly Trap, the latter perhaps a direct influence on Almaric. Those films, however, use non-linear storytelling techniques for a clear purpose, to connect observations from different times in their characters’ lives, for instance, and do so in a manner whereby the audience knows when and where these events are occurring, while in more puzzling narratives like the latter two films, their scripts intrigue and maintain their audiences’ interest by providing them with just enough information so that they’re able to work toward answers as the film plays out.
None of this applies to Hold Me Tight. Most scenes only make sense in retrospect, after the Big Whatsit is finally revealed in the closing minutes. Even here, though, Amalric’s intent is sometimes unclear. Why does Clarisse unbutton the flutist’s shirt at the bar, touching his hairy chest, apparently to feel his heartbeat? Why does she come down so hard on a German tourist for the way he talks to his son? When are these events happening? Are they real or imagined?
Would Hold Me Tight’s impact have been lessened had the film adopted a more conventional, linear approach? I don’t think so. During the middle hour especially, I found myself frustrated by all this guess work and asking myself “Is this scene supposed to be happening in the present, past, or future? Is it ‘real’ or imagined?” In one sequence Clarisse, at one location, has a conversation with Marc, at another location, and while it’s clear this is her imagination at work, it’s unclear whether Marc and the kids are supposed to “existing” in the present, past, or future. And why does Marc “hear” her words but the kids cannot? Why does Clarisse converse with Marc in this scene in this way but not throughout? In short, Amalric’s approach completely distracts from rather than enhances our understanding of the characters and appreciation of Clarisse’s mental anguish. Instead of adding insight, it generates only confusion.
Indeed, the film’s structure actually reduces audience empathy toward the characters, which become almost schematic because there’s no chance to truly know who they are/were, especially since so much is channeled through Clarisse’s imagination. Some reviews heaped praise on Vicky Krieps’s performance, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, Amalric’s screenplay is so fragmented that we learn almost nothing about Clarisse or her family: they were blissfully happy before IT happened, and then they weren’t.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Hold Me Tight is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen on a Region A encoded disc. Up to contemporary standards, the transfer reflects cinematographer’s Christophe Beaucarne’s rich palette, with lots of bright primary colors occasionally contrasting the more subdued colors in the production design. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is likewise contemporary and makes excellent use of the mostly classical music score, with directional audio used artfully. (A 2.0 stereo mix is also available.) The film is in French with good English subtitles.
Supplements are bountiful here, the director and star making their case for the film. Amalric provides an audio commentary track in French with English subtitling; he also appears with Krieps in both an interview (28:59) and after-screening Q&A with questions from the audience (18:24). Both of these are in English and in 1.78:1 high-def. A trailer (1:50) and three photo galleries (with images from three different photographers) rounds out the extras.
Hold Me Tight has all the makings of an absorbing drama, but in the telling the film opts for a tangled narrative that generates more frustration than interest.
- Stuart Galbraith IV