Review: French Actor Mathieu Amalric Moves Behind the Camera for Mysterious, Emotional Hold Me Tight

French filmmaker Mathieu Amalric is likely best known in the United States for his more than a hundred roles in front of the camera, including The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and more recently Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch. But Amalric has directed half a dozen films of his own, and his skills at the helm of a picture are on full display in the winding, mysterious family drama Hold Me Tight. Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread, Bergman Island, Old) stars as Clarisse, a woman who, at some point in her story, was a loving wife and mother with a seemingly picture-perfect life in France with her husband and two school-aged children.

Much of Hold Me Tight is a mystery, as Amalric's script (adapted from a play by Claudine Galea) gives little away about Clarisse, her husband Marc (Arieh Worthalter) or their children, gifted pianist Lucie (Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet) and rambunctious little brother Paul (Sacha Ardilly). That the film mostly progresses non-linearly doesn't help, criss-crossing in time through moments in Clarisse's life both with and without her family. At times she's wrapped up happily in a family moment; at others she's alone at a nightclub, dancing frenetically on her own; and at still others, she's lost and distant, moving seemingly aimlessly through a world that, for some reason, doesn't make sense to her any more.

The uncertainty and ambiguity that defines most of the film's 97-minute runtime borders on frustrating, but it's the combination of Amalric's able sense of direction (both literally and figuratively) and another unmissable performance from Krieps that keeps the film on solid ground. In whatever circumstances we catch her in, Krieps gives Clarisse a fully formed presence; the quotidian marital disagreements between Marc and Clarisse, ones that quickly end when one of the children needs attention, are as engaging as her moments of distress or despair, deeply felt and harrowing as they are. Though Krieps is on screen for much of the film, one of the more moving segments is a scene with just Marc and the children, now young teenagers. They're home in the kitchen, doing the things families do, but Marc is distracted throughout, and it's Clarisse's voice he hears. Is this some sort of voice from the beyond? Clarisse as Marc's conscience? Something else entirely?

Hold Me Tight does finally resolve for its audience what exactly is going on, but even this is left slightly to the imagination, as much of what really happened we never see. Instead, Amalric is more interested in the ripple effects of these circumstances, how Clarisse and those around her change and cope with the unexpected. The filmmaker is our guide through something more of an emotional state rather than a storyline or plot, the movie flitting from one scene to another with only our sense of faith in the journey (and Krieps) to keep us moving forward. Those in search of something spoon-fed might look elsewhere, as Amalric asks more of us in his examination of one woman's response to a world broken open yet still seemingly as it was. And, to his credit, he gives us more than enough to embrace.

Hold Me Tight is now playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

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Lisa Trifone