Hold me tight, let me go is the latest documentary by English filmmaker,
We follow the lives of these fragile young boys at the heart of the film over a period of time, fast-forwarding between months and switching back and forth between characters. Reminding one a little of ‘Être Et Avoir’ - also set over several seasons in a rural community but in a French school - Hold me tight, let me go may not be in French, but should perhaps come with a warning like “Excuse my French!”, because this is a film that keeps shocking us with the kids’ abusive language (“I’m gonna kick you in the c%*@!” or “Shut up your fat b*$%@” or “F%^& you, little bastard!”) As saddening it is to hear such explicit words exploding out of these children’s mouths, it is clear that they are only repeating what they themselves have heard from the dysfunctional adults in their lives.
The children lash out in other shocking ways, apart from swearing, by hitting and spitting their way through their misery, while endlessly patient and determined staff members try to verbally reason with them, often (and sadly) having to resort to restraining them physically. “In your face” scenes where children are held by the wrist, or even held to the ground, are truly disturbing to watch. Indeed, the camera leaves nothing out. Sometimes – and I don’t know if Longinotto meant for this to be obvious – the staff, although remarkably calm, come off as annoying. It is the tone in their voices which is a tad too irritating and overly patronizing. When families break down, the result is an angry and hurt child who may need more than restraint or some psychological question like “What colour does your sadness look like?” in order to heal. The irreplaceable importance of a mother’s love, for instance, is apparent in scenes showing one child not being able to let go of his mum when it is time to say goodbye. When the camera captures the staff saying that it feels like they “can’t get it right”, they do not gain our sympathy (imagine what the children are feeling!), however flipping points of view does effectively show us their side of the story, allowing us to see that they too struggle in their own ways.
The families’ perspectives are also briefly portrayed, like for example when towards the end of the movie Alex’s mum breaks downs when chatting to a counselor, confessing how she is also a victim of family dysfunction, thus showing us how abuse and neglect can have a domino effect. The significance of family time together is also emphasized, especially in the parts when children are on their best behavior and eager to interact when family visit, as well as in heart wrenching scenes like when a child is in tranquil bliss as his mother caresses and praises him.
This film, not surprisingly but perhaps unconsciously, delves into psychology. When
This documentary, although disturbing, is one that unveils the raw reality in the lives of troubled children, something which wouldn’t hurt us all to be aware of. What the film manages to achieve is to show how important, not only verbal communication is, but also the art of listening - something that most kids (and some parents) don’t seem to know enough about. From tantrums to bullying to pulling out knives on each other, it is obvious that the boys are simply calling out for attention in their confusion and anger. Nevertheless, as a staff member points out to them, asking for help is important, but there are other ways to do it.
Although handheld cameras play a background character in long shots where the action unfolding before us tells the story, Longonitto cuts any monotony that might be felt - keeping the viewers on their toes - by inserting shocking subtitles at various points throughout the movie: “At lunchtime Ben attacked Alex with a knife” or “He only spends 6 days a year with his mum at the school” or “Robert, 9 years old” we then learn urinated all over his bedroom carpet. Through the intimate use of close-ups, the director succeeds in capturing the childrens’ transformations (from little angel to aggressive tiger), and what kept me engrossed until the very end were the boys’ volatile temperaments: from yelling to laughing, from hysterics to tranquility.
Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go is ultimately a heartbreaking study of dysfunction, and the endless cycle of help and struggle for those who suffer. It pays witness to the tremendous influence that adults hold - for bad and for good - upon growing kids, epitomizing the fact that children are just children, and will always need and value their parents’ love, support and attention. The film also skillfully embodies the terrifying feelings of abandonment and the crucial effects of farewell on vulnerable children. With a clever choice of music (like in the last scene where the optimistic, if a little cheesy, lyrics: “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” belt out of the stereo) we are surprisingly left, not with depression because of the dismal world have just witnessed, but with hope that there can be a happy ending. In one interview, Longonitto expressed how difficult it was to gain the trust of the staff members in order to shoot this documentary - I am pleased she stuck through it because this is one rollercoaster of a film worth watching.
Nathalie Kyrou © 2008. All rights reserved to the author.