'A' Is a Harrowing, Beautiful Fever Dream of Loneliness Directed by Mitchell Stafiej
Starring Alex Zhang Hungtai, Romy Lightman, Petra Glynt, Bernardino Femminielli, Alexis O'Hara
Published Apr 28, 2020For a while after watching A, I was in a funk. It left me reeling as if from a fever dream and feeling on the brink of migraine for a few days. If there's anything I have learned about good films, it's that they stick with you for a long while after you have watched them, seeping into your thoughts every day, colouring everything you see. A is such a movie.
Directed by Mitchell Stafiej, A stars Alex Zhang Hungtai (Dirty Beaches, Last Lizard) as Konrad, an alcoholic ambient musician who has isolated himself in his apartment to work on his album. Konrad faces pressure from his label to complete the album, and from his mother, played by Alexis O'Hara, to clean up his act. The film dizzily follows Konrad over a week as he tries to overcome a recent breakup and as he tries to do what he once was so great at. Spliced through the film are home movies from Konrad's childhood. It's an intense 83 minutes that explores substance abuse, grief over a breakup, family, and the complexity of race, which exists at the intersection where all these meet through Konrad.
There is a scene when Konrad's mother visits him with groceries, lifting him out of a drunken stupor with her knocks at his door. She makes him dinner and eats it with chopsticks while Konrad instinctively goes for the fork and knife. The scene then oscillates between the two as they discuss Konrad's absentee father who was a musician, Konrad's music, his ex-girlfriend and his drinking. As the frames go by, the number of beer bottles around Konrad increase and the wine bottle drains. It's an intense scene that scans through the film's themes so deftly you could miss them if you blinked, and it perfectly encapsulates the film's experimental and sensory nature.
The movie is difficult to watch. The scenes depicting Konrad's childhood, which was full of potential and smiles, flicker across the screen like a horror film, as though in mourning of what once was. The home videos become macabre: vibrant red, blue, green relics, something horrific for their happiness, all set to Konrad's music, which itself is almost of a Lynchian conceit. His saxophone wails throughout the film, haunting like the beginning of Twin Peaks: Fire walk with Me. We feel Konrad's sensations because the camera never leaves him, and as he gets drunker and drunker, we feel as though we're along for the painful ride. The sound editing in this film is wonderfully intricate, compellingly making the viewer uncomfortable in the way a hangover thrums.
The story takes place in Konrad's room and is lonely and fragmented, but questions about the narrative seem to be answered intuitively, as they arise in the viewer's mind. Zhang Hungtai is amazing at depicting Konrad's sadness, fear, insecurity and anger. Haunting in its ambience, this film explores the heartbreaking way trauma can cause us to quash our own potential, how we can feel alienated in our own families, how much breakups suck, and just how much loneliness stings.
More than anything this movie is an experience, and it will leave a bitter taste in your mouth, a hollow headache ringing in your ears. (NFB)