Dream the scene

Vicky Krieps on Mathieu Amalric and Hold Me Tight

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Hold Me Tight (Serre Moi Fort) star Vicky Krieps on Mathieu Amalric: “I am not him, yet I am almost his alter ego as well.”
Hold Me Tight (Serre Moi Fort) star Vicky Krieps on Mathieu Amalric: “I am not him, yet I am almost his alter ego as well.”

When I met up with Vicky Krieps (who starred opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread) she was on holiday in Italy. We discussed her role in Mathieu Amalric’s penetrating Hold Me Tight (Serre Moi Fort), which is based on Claudine Galéa’s play Je Reviens De Loin.

Vicky can soon be seen playing Sisi, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, in Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage (screening in the Main Slate of the 60th New York Film Festival and produced by Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade) and as Ingeborg Bachmann in her relationship to Max Frisch in Margarethe von Trotta’s Bachmann & Frisch. Ronald Zehrfeld from Frauke Finsterwalder’s Finsterworld, co-written with Christian Kracht, plays Frisch. Finsterwalder has an upcoming Sisi project for 2023, Sisi & I, starring Sandra Hüller with Susanne Wolff as Sisi.

Vicky Krieps with Anne-Katrin Titze on coming to present Mathieu Amalric’s Hold Me Tight and Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage: “I love New York, I take every opportunity I get.”
Vicky Krieps with Anne-Katrin Titze on coming to present Mathieu Amalric’s Hold Me Tight and Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage: “I love New York, I take every opportunity I get.”

Hold Me Tight begins cryptically with a woman, Clarisse (Vicky Krieps), turning over polaroids of her family. “I’m sick of being little,” says one of her two children. Daughter Lucie (Juliette Benveniste) wants a piano, son Paul (Aurèle Grzesik) wants a treehouse. What could her husband Marc (Arieh Worthalter) want?

How much in our life really happens in our heads? We shape the past and order it in neatly stacked drawers or folders of narrative, speckled with colourful meaning. There is no immunity to anticipating the future with the help of the past and the dreams at night with their fresh openings into what is possible.

“We have gained reality and lost a dream” is how Robert Musil put it in The Man Without Qualities and the struggle between science and sorcery remains complicated. Vicky Krieps in her tremendous performance, found in incessant motion, displays the struggle between what is wanted, what is there, and what is no longer there. What happens when you try to take control of the narrative of your life is one of the many puzzle questions Hold Me Tight raises.

From a beach in Italy, Vicky Krieps joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Hold Me Tight, a highlight of the 74th Cannes Film Festival and New York’s 27th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You’re at the beach and Hold Me Tight is a long time ago for you.

Vicky Krieps: Yes!

AKT: The film has such a fascinating structure and premise. Do you remember the first time Mathieu talked to you about it?

VK: Yes. When he approached me the first time it’s an interesting part of the project because I think it says a lot about the project and about him. He contacted my French agent and said he would like to meet me. Then I met him in kind of a typical Parisian café, sitting there very nervously chain smoking with his little backpack and saying “Oh I’m very nervous because I’m going to approach you with a project. Usually I only work with people who’ve been close to me in my private life. I was writing a script and I couldn’t continue and then you visited me in my mind, you know?” That’s how he calls it.

Vicky Krieps: “In this movie there’s a lot of unconscious, you’re very right.”
Vicky Krieps: “In this movie there’s a lot of unconscious, you’re very right.”

AKT: I see.

VK: And it’s a story abut a woman and then he said it’s based on a theatre play. He said “Do you mind reading the theatre play?” He had a little book with him. And he gave it to me. And he said “Please read it, and if you like it I will give you the script.” He was so shy and really nervous about this moment of asking an actor to actually play in his movie.

I think it’s the first time that he did this step consciously. Because I’m not of his private life or of his usual actors surrounding him. I think it adds to the film too. Maybe it helped him to go a step further in his approach or in his way of doing movies? I am not him, yet I am almost his alter ego as well. It added a distance and gave him, I think, more artistic freedom.

AKT: It makes so much sense what you’re saying. When I spoke with Mathieu, I was talking about the Freudian fort/da game. Where children take control over the story by pretending to hide from the mirror. In order to mask the painful experiences. I thought this is so much what is happening in the film. Then, this morning, for the first time, I noticed that the word “fort”, with the same spelling is in the title.

VK: Yes!

AKT: Although of course it means “tight” and “strong” in French and not “away” as it does in German. And yet there is so much Freudian overlap, I feel! The unconscious at work.

Vicky Krieps: “I was doubting myself all the time.”
Vicky Krieps: “I was doubting myself all the time.”

VK: In this movie there’s a lot of unconscious, you’re very right. You know the scene that is the most powerful one when she sees the children bags, whatever you call it. And I said to Mathieu "I don’t know if I can play this, I don’t know if this is something to be played. How do you act something so real?" Someone on the other side of the planet is experiencing the same thing, because it is something about our lives.

So I did what I always do, which is I read and then close my eyes and kind of dream the scene, envision the scene, instead of rehearsing it. I find it goes deeper and it is connected to the unconscious. I felt in this dream that I was very angry and it didn’t make sense to me because in the script she is suffering and all I could feel is enormous rage and anger. Mathieu said “I felt it too.”

We didn’t rehearse and the day we were going to do the scene I asked if we could not rehearse. And I said “Please understand if I cannot act it and see what comes out of it!” So they were putting in the camera tracks the whole morning until almost 12 noon. The whole time I was alone in the hotel, just thinking of my kids, not my own kids.

AKT: Your film kids.

VK: The actor kids and how they may be somewhere in the mountains. He’s really good at building huts, my husband in the movie. I was just waiting for my moment and then the moment comes up. I’ll always remember the second AD standing there, doing this countdown. She was standing there to tell me the action so I could then come out to do the scene, knowing that I would have to run up the hill. And when she was standing there about to say “action”, I felt I’m a ski jumper and someone is telling me “one, two, three, go!”

Vicky Krieps on Marc (Arieh Worthalter): “He’s really good at building huts, my husband in the movie.”
Vicky Krieps on Marc (Arieh Worthalter): “He’s really good at building huts, my husband in the movie.”

I was going to take this ramp not knowing if I was going to fly, get stuck in the middle, if I would fall. And I’m really honest with you, I didn’t know. I was just relating my feeling of the woman to her children. I came out and it became the scene which it is. Afterwards me and Mathieu we were both crying another five to ten minutes, really sobbing into each other’s arms. I said it was true, the way you react to trauma. And the mountain guys, the guards, they were actual mountain guards, not actors, they remained silent for ten minutes.

Afterwards they said to Mathieu “We’re so sorry, we didn’t know!” And he was like “What do you mean?” And they said that it’s true that the woman had that happen to her in her life. And Mathieu said “Oh no, she’s an actress! It didn’t happen to her in her life.” To them whatever I did seemed to be whatever people did, but it was completely unconscious. The whole making of the movie was me following my instinct and Mathieu not saying much and trusting me, almost like a silent telepathy communication thing.

AKT: That vulnerability from you and for him is such a gift for an audience to receive. Because we all feel vulnerable at points in our lives.

VK: Yes, it takes you to this place where we are vulnerable. I didn’t know, Mathieu didn’t know. I think he changed the editing a million times. He thought “How much can I tell them? How much should I hide from them? How poetic can I be?”

Mathieu Amalric with Claudine Galéa’s play Je Reviens De Loin
Mathieu Amalric with Claudine Galéa’s play Je Reviens De Loin

And then he was doubting himself a lot, of course; it’s not an easy story. I was doubting myself all the time. I was just confused. In my eyes, art is interesting when the artist, the originator, or the maker is actually searching for something. And the audience is invited to join the search, to get on board to study rocks or plants or whatever is out there.

AKT: You also did that in Phantom Thread. You invited us in to solve the puzzle, how to deal with this guy, Reynolds Woodcock [Daniel Day-Lewis].

VK: I invited you into my personal despair.

AKT: Precisely, and why not with mushrooms? That’s it. Another moment I want to talk to you about in Hold Me Tight, is the moment when we see you at the bar. Before you touch that man, which feels like a dangerous scene. I didn’t recognize you at first, something that never happens to me in a film.

VK: Oh wow!

AKT: I wrote down “woman sitting at bar” in my notes. It took me a moment to realize it’s you, the same person we’ve been following. Was that moment filmed separately?

VK: It was not separately, but it was the most painful moment for me. I felt sick after the scene. Because that was the only time I invited myself into the craziness, into the losing your mind. That was the only moment I let myself slip over into how it would be if out of pure pain you slip.

Vicky Krieps as Alma with Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s  Phantom Thread
Vicky Krieps as Alma with Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread

You slip and you don’t know if what you see is real and then you start asking people. How the brain does this staccato and jumps between dream and reality. It was very painful doing the scene. I remember myself feeling weird afterwards. What I just did, this was weird. So it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t recognize me because doing it didn’t feel like it was me.

AKT: Wow, that’s incredible what cinema can do! The fact that the feeling translates and grabs you this way!

VK: Yeah!

AKT: The fact that it’s possible to communicate that way!

VK: It’s absolutely possible. It’s all light capturing images. Light projecting the same information on the screen, someone watching it and being moved. That for me is something I will never understand and that’s why I do movies. It’s a riddle I will never solve how it’s possible.

AKT: Mathieu told me that the snowy snow coat in the flashback was yours?

VK: Yes, I came with it one day and he loved it. I got it at a flea market in Berlin, there are so many.

AKT: True.

VK: And he loved it so much and said “you have to have it in the scene.”

AKT: Again there is the unconscious and the metaphor, the snow, your face in the ice, the snowy coat. The whiteness, the light, the delightfulness.

Hold Me Tight poster
Hold Me Tight poster

VK: Yes!

AKT: A word about Corsage. I am very much looking forward to seeing it in the New York Film Festival. You’ll be back?

VK: Yes, I love New York, I take every opportunity I get.

AKT: Thank you for talking to me from the beach.

VK: My week of holiday, I’m so happy.

AKT: When you come to New York, there is a great Lou Reed exhibition, I suggested it to Mathieu to meet up.

VK: I’d love that.

AKT: Great, see you then!

VK: Cool! Ciao!

Hold Me Tight opens at Film at Lincoln Center on Friday, September 9. Sneak Preview and Q&A on September 8 at 7:00pm with Mathieu Amalric and Vicky Krieps. Mathieu and Vicky will also participate in a Film Comment Live free talk on September 9 at 6:30pm.

Corsage screens at the New York Film Festival on Saturday, October 1 at 12:00pm, Sunday, October 2 at 6:00pm, and Wednesday, October 5 at 3:00pm. Marie Kreutzer and Vicky Krieps are expected to attend.

Corsage, presented by IFC Films, will open in cinemas in the US on December 23.

Read what Mathieu Amalric had to say on Hold Me Tight.

Coming up - Vicky Krieps on Corsage and Bachmann & Frisch.

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