‘Hold Me Tight’ (‘Serre moi fort’): Film Review | Cannes 2021

French actor-director Mathieu Amalric’s latest directorial outing stars Vicky Krieps as a woman dealing with sudden distance from her family.

A mother suddenly finds herself far, far away from her husband and children in Hold Me Tight (Serre moi fort), a gorgeously shot memory piece from French actor-director Mathieu Amalric. Though probably most famous for his acting turns as the Bond baddie in Quantum of Solace, a man with locked-in syndrome in Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and a host of wild-haired French intellectuals in other art house hits, Amalric has an esteemed second career as a director in his own right. He even scored a coveted Cannes competition spot with his swirling 2010 feature, On Tour, set in the American burlesque world, and is now back in Cannes with his sixth feature, premiering in the aptly (if unimaginatively) named Cannes Premieres section.

Hold Me Tight stars Phantom Thread breakout Vicky Krieps in a tour-de-force performance as a woman who has to digest the ever-increasing distance between herself and the members of her family, who seem very close by and yet so far away. This expertly judged French-language drama will be of interest to boutique distributors or platforms with a penchant for quality art house fare.

Hold Me Tight

The Bottom Line

An impressively shot and performed memory piece.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Cannes Premieres)
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Arieh Worthalter
Writer-director: Mathieu Amalric, screenplay based on the play Je reviens de loin by Claudine Galea

1 hour 37 minutes

Writer-director Amalric, who doesn’t appear onscreen, here adapts a play by Claudine Galea. But from the very first moments, in which Camille (Krieps) escapes in a rush from the bucolic family home at dawn and we crosscut between her on the road and her husband Marc (Belgian thespian Arieh Worthalter) and their preteen kids getting up for the day, there isn’t a hint of staginess to the proceedings.

The way in which editor Francois Gedigier (who happens to be married to the sister of director Arnaud Desplechin, in whose films Amalric frequently stars) cuts between the homefront and the near-desperate escape of Camille is quite something to behold. It propels the whole feature forward in a dash of mad, hurtling energy that helps put the viewer in the mind-space of Camille. We don’t yet know why she wants to get away so quickly and so recklessly, but it’s crystal-clear that all she wants to do is leave, as if she’d just discovered the family home was some kind of ungodly crime scene.

Ace Belgian cinematographer Christopher Beaucarne shoots especially the scenes with Marc and the children as gossamer, almost stolen moments that could fly away on the lightest of breezes and disappear in a second. They have a floating, almost eerie sense of normality to them, as if we’re witnessing these quotidian moments like those bugs encased in transparent resin — utterly real and yet utterly unmoving.

Helping to thread the two disparate strands together is some voiceover work in which different elements start to echo each other. Initially, the effect is enigmatic but things start to clear up around the half-hour mark. It’s here that the narrative begins to take on its true weight, as the enormity of what Camille is trying to face, albeit in her own way and only a tiny bit at a time, becomes clear. One particularly telling bit has her dreaming about her children’s futures and we see them as adolescents, with her daughter, for example, making good on her promise as a talented pianist. This particular strand has an eye-opener of a revelation of its own that is devastating. After the initial shock, this realization helps bring the viewer closer to Camille’s reality, which is a state of madness and occasional denial translated into a sort of trance-like reverie.

And indeed, watching large chunks of this film feels like being transported into a trance-like reverie, albeit a reverie that quite often has nightmarish contours. Luxembourg actress Krieps, who also headlined Mia Hansen-Løve’s Cannes competition title Bergman Island, is perfectly cast, as she has an earthy, matter-of-fact quality that helps keep the character grounded even in the midst of her craziest follies. And there needs to be an element of her that remains earth-bound at all times if she is to get through all this, something that somehow reassures not only her but also the audience. It’s a tiny little light at the end of a roller-coaster-like tunnel.

Full credits

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Cannes Premieres)
Production companies: Les Films du Poisson, Gaumont Cinema, Arte France Cinema, Lupa Film
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Arieh Worthalter
Writer-Director: Mathieu Amalric, screenplay based on the play Je reviens de loin by Claudine Galea
Producers: Yael Fogiel, Laetitia Gonzalez
Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne
Production design: Laurent Baude
Costume design: Caroline Spieth
Editing: Francois Gedigier
Sales: Gaumont

1 hour 37 minutes