Serre Moi Fort (Hold Me Tight)

Serre Moi Fort (Hold Me Tight) FL, 2021, 2 ¼ stars

Hold  loses its grip

Dramatic brainteaser is a poetic but difficult watch

Vicky Krieps stars in Serre Moi Fort, or Hold Me Tight. (images copyright and courtesy of Les Films du Poisson / Kino Lorber)

Exclusive to MeierMovies, August 26, 2022

Serre Moi Fort (or Hold Me Tight), the new French-language drama from writer-director Mathieu Amalric, begins with a woman playing a game of “picture match” with old photographs, trying to pair identical images, or reconstruct memories of her family.

“Let’s start again, and again, and again,” Clarisse cries, frustrated at her failure.

At this point in the film, we don’t understand the nature of that failure, or her grief. In fact, for most of this impressionistic drama, we’re just as lost as she, tossing around images in our own mind, trying to establish connections. All we know, or think we know, is that Clarisse has abandoned her husband (Marc) and two children (Paul and Lucie). (“You broke mom,” Paul says to his dad.) But the details are shrouded in seemingly random editing, which embraces overlapping time lines, events and conversations (real and imagined), to the point of introducing what appears like continuity errors.

There are cryptic references to Friday, and to “waiting for spring,” all accompanied by piano compositions that, like each scene, often lack a beginning and an end. Maybe the best plot clue can be found early in the film when Clarisse says to Marc (or is it to herself?): “I’m not the one who left.”

Amalric based his script on a play by Claudine Galea, and one can’t escape the feeling that it might play better on stage, or as a short film, because the repetitive, confusing scenes wear thin over 97 minutes. Still, this arthouser has been well received since it premiered last year at Cannes, though I disbelieve anyone who claims to understand everything on a first viewing, or even a second.

The Sixth Sense and I am the Cheese (a similarly twisty drama about loss, from 1983) come to mind. But the plot reveals of those two movies carry a sense of awe, gratitude and empathy. Once you uncover the truth of Hold Me Tight, there is little sense of accomplishment, just a revealed secret at the end of an exhausting maze.

The failings are not due to Luxembourgish actress Vicky Krieps, whose absorbing performance powers the film. She is one of the best actresses that most American audiences still don’t know, despite her wonderful turn alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017). She was also memorable in The Last Vermeer (2019), Old (2021) and a wonderful short film from 2015, Pitter Patter Goes My Heart. There’s a subtle beauty about her and her performances, but also a sadness, which fits this film’s mood.

I first saw Krieps in Pitter Patter and was thrilled to discuss it with her at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival. If I were able to talk to her again, though, I’d pepper her with questions about the deeper meanings of Hold Me Tight. Film critics aren’t always the smartest bunch, so maybe I’m missing something. But even if I’m not, I’d still like to know her (and Amalric’s) interpretations, plus how Krieps mentally prepared for the role considering she, like her character, has a boy and a girl.

As Marc, French actor Arieh Worthalter does what is asked of him, as do the four actors who play the young and slightly older versions of the children, especially Juliette Benveniste. (Look for big things from her in the future.) But they don’t have much to do compared to Krieps. Their characters are pawns in Clarisse’s world.

If you embrace this film’s poetic ambiguity, you will find meaning. But if you’re looking for a thorough thematic summation, I can only suggest listening to Lucie tell her friend a joke:

“A guy goes in a bar, and he says, ‘Hi, it’s me.’ But it wasn’t him.”

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