Grief of Want, and Grief of Cold
Vicky Krieps is the emotional center of a poetic tale of separation and heartbreak.
Courtesy of Kino Lorber. Vicky Krieps as "Clarisse" in Hold Me Tight.
The first words Vicky Krieps says in Hold Me Tight, the new film from Mathieu Amalric, are “Let’s start again.” She has laid out Polaroids, face down, on her bed in a grid like structure—reminiscent of the matching game Memory. She flips over a photo, flips it back face down, gets frustrated and admonishes herself to “start again.” This little game of Memory is an apt metaphor for Hold Me Tight as the story continues. It’s a framing device that the film uses to examine how we remember, how we describe, the people that were once integral parts of our lives: Do we remember them as they were, or do we imagine what they’ve become now that we’re gone.
We see Clarisse (Krieps) tip-toeing through the house one morning, a ghost slipping things in a bag, taking last glances at her sleeping husband, Marc (Arieh Worthaler), and their children, Lucie (Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet), and Paul (Sacha Ardilly). She drives off in a 1979 AMC Pacer with a stealth that suggests abandonment. She stops at a service stationed operated by a friend. “I still see them,” Clarisse says. Which hints at something more than her running away. Start again. But this is not starting again. This is not leaving, or moving on. This is a waiting, a hiatus.
As the film moves along, we switch back and forth between Clarisse’s journey and her family’s effort to continue on with their daily routines without her. Clarisse in a bar lamenting her leaving, but saying Marc will explain it all to the children, tell them it’s human. And he does. They have come to an understanding: Marc, Lucie, and Paul will keep going, keep living without Clarisse. While they seem to accept that they will never see her again—there’s no questioning why—their sadness is so heavy and always at the fore. Instead of exposition, Amalric gives us poetry. Marc, tired of looking at Clarisse’s bathroom products, rakes the bottles from the shelves, removes them to the garage. Upon seeing this, Paul cries, berates his father, “You threw her away!”
There is an element of disassociation in Hold Me Tight. Clarisse uses music to speak and connect to Lucie—a gifted pianist who, by the end of the film, becomes a virtuoso. Paul collapses, fully clothed, into a bubble bath at the same moment Clarisse shoves her face into a fishmonger’s bank of ice. And her voice seeps into Marc’s ears as he makes breakfast, and he responds as if she were next to him whispering in his ear. He chuckles, and the kids ask him who is talking to. He tells them no one. When he sits at the table, she tells him to take his shirt off. It’s a game. She’s in charge, and he’s happy to play along. He misses her, and she misses him. They both know there’s no reuniting. There is love and ache and also joy as Marc sits down at the table and removes his shirt just as he’s been told. She notices his new tattoo, and we notice the sly ways in which Amalric is showing the passage of time: the new ink, a freshly painted kitchen, the faces of the aged Lucie (Juliette Benveniste) and Paul (Aurèle Grzesik). But not everything is happening the way we might think it is.
Courtesy of Kino Lorber. Sacha Ardilly as “Paul” and Arieh Worthaler as “Marc” in Hold Me Tight.
The tragedy that has caused this separation and disassociation, is revealed early on. And it explains why Clarisse had to leave and the anger and anguish that frequently grabs hold of her. Amalric lets each crafted, composed shot describe Clarisse’s emotional journey—that and Krieps’ gift for expressing deep, complex feelings in the way at times she stares off into the horizon, screams at a stranger, or looks seconds away from falling into a breakdown.
Part of the pleasure in Hold Me Tight is the way Amalric plays with narrative structure and time. The use of cross-cutting between Clarisse and her family not only shows how the two parties are continuing on, but also the juxtaposition of what’s real and what’s not. This film is a möbius strip of memory and grief. One that folds imagination into reality until they come smashing into one another in a moment when storytelling morphs into obsession.
The film’s ending returns to the game of Memory. As Clarisse flips over each image, she’s able to tell a story, real or imagined, smiling as she does so. In an earlier moment, she turns to a friend, a bit disgusted with the stories she’s been building and, perhaps, past familial interactions, “Marc was furniture,” she says. “I’ve turned the children into lambs.” Grief never goes away, it may get less invasive, quieter, but it’s always there. But by the end of the film, Clarisse’s creative engagement with her grief allows her to manage—maybe that’s all any of us can really ask for. She’s become proud of her ability to conjure each of them on demand, to render them in such a way that they will never disappear.
Brock Kingsley is a writer, artist, critic, and educator living in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has appeared in publications such as Brooklyn Rail, Paste Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, Waxwing, and elsewhere.