Review by Sean Boelman
Mathieu Almaric is a French character actor acclaimed around the world, but few American audiences are likely familiar with his directorial outings. His sixth film, Hold Me Tight, debuted at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim and is now making its way to audiences in the U.S., although its low-key nature will render it largely inaccessible.
The movie follows a woman who, after putting up with an intense amount of stress and frustration for years, makes the life-changing decision to leave her husband and family behind. It’s a melodrama in a narrative sense, but not in a way that is high on the histrionics — as much of the film is quiet and contained.
The main reason that most cinephiles will be intrigued by this movie is Vicky Krieps’s performance, and she delivers wholeheartedly. Much of the runtime is spent following Krieps’s character in her newfound “freedom” not having to care for her family, an arc that isn’t always the most sympathetic. However, while the character very easily could have turned annoying, Krieps brings an extraordinary amount of empathy to the role, giving the movie the emotional grounding it needs.
Adapting Claudine Galea’s play, Mathieu Almaric does a great job of exploring the central conflict of the play in a way that accentuates its themes. The film is very introspective, exploring the complexities of the protagonist’s internal dilemma of choosing between herself and her family. The honesty of the movie in this regard is certainly welcome, because like everything in life, it isn’t black and white.
One of the most interesting things about this film is the way in which it flips the typical gender dynamics in an unexpected way. Most of the stories we see in the media about absentee parents are about fathers who left their families behind, not mothers. It’s fascinating to see a story like this told from the opposite angle because it lends it a feeling of emotional truth.
However, any feeling of groundedness is foiled by moments that artificially tug at the heartstrings. Scenes of the protagonist longingly mourning as her family lives without her or showing her family struggling to go about their daily routine missing their mother seem like blatant attempts to appeal to the audience’s sentimentality, and they don’t work.
Almaric also has a hard time developing the protagonist’s family. With less development, the movie could have been focused entirely on the emotions of the mother, or with more, they could have been legitimate players in the story. As it stands, the family is in a weird gray area where they are too developed to ignore, but not developed enough to be satisfyingly written.
Hold Me Tight benefits from a truly astounding performance from Vicky Krieps, who brings an enormous amount of sensitivity to her role. The script does leave something to be desired, but it is ambitious enough that it can be forgiven for some of its shortcomings.
Hold Me Tight hits theaters on September 9.