Music runs liberally through Mathieu Amalric’s intriguing film Hold Me Tight, and, in some ways, informs its unusual, fluid narrative style. Because music, especially in the expansive classical mode, tells its “stories” in ways untethered to strict narrative strategies, the medium makes for an ideal expressive aid in this story of a mother cast adrift. Memories, hallucinations, chronological mazes, recapitulations and narrative detours — ideas inherent and malleable in the language of music — are woven into the film’s fabric. In the language of film, the structure strikes us as a puzzle to be solved, seeking missing information which eventually unlocks the overall story arc.
Our troubled heroine (in another stunning performance by Vickie Krieps, whose resume includes Phantom Thread) is a mother who seemingly abruptly leaves her family. Or is it the other way around? Questions abound and buzz in this film, including questions about the very sanity of our protagonist, possibly with touches of PTSD. “Holding on tight” is an unattainable prospect, as she channels memories of family life and seems to become a spiritual guide to their behavior from afar at times, while intervening in the life of a young pianist. Recurring motifs and mysterious references — “waiting for spring,” references to some significant Friday — hint at the underlying secrets in the narrative, or like musical riffs circling back into the mix.
As a relevant aside in terms of both local color and musical linkage, writer-director Amalric (known as a Bond villain stateside, but a versatile French actor-director-conceptualist who also starred in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and has appeared in Wes Anderson films) visited the 805 back in 2018, speaking briefly at an event as part of the Ojai Music Festival, where, his romantic partner and international classical world sensation Barbara Hannigan was busy as director and performer of that year’s festivities.
Could it be that Hannigan has awakened in her partner a newer, deeper appreciation for serious music and its capacity to be used as a central source in cinema? Hold Me Tight is an argument in favor of the concept. In the film’s most agonizingly poignant scene, late in the game, Amalric scores the pivotal plot point with the sound of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, which has been deployed in cinema before, but possibly not with such piercing intensity.
Although the musical agenda is mostly classical, the film wraps with J.J. Cale’s cool art pop song “Cherry” under the end credits. But it pays to stay to the very end of the film, with an eerily silent postscript, a grainy shot of sun glinting through trees. Call it an existential mystery story.
Hold Me Tight is currently on view at the Riviera Theatre.