Gramercy, the new short film from Seneca Village Pictures, opens with a shot of three young men on a bench at dusk. It’s summer, things look good, they are comfortable in each other’s silent company. The central man, our protagonist Shaq, gets up to admire the view, and when he turns around again his friends have gone: time has passed.
What unspools from here is a keenly felt tale of one man’s mental health crisis and what that means for the people and the place he had to leave, to which he now returns.
Gramercy is the name of this place, “I’m finally back in Gramercy,” Shaq says to a friend, full of tentative excitement, although his return will not be uncomplicated for anyone. And Gramercy is front and centre in this film, but even though it’s a real place, the film does not present a simple picture of place – if such a thing could be realised. Instead, the Gramercy of the film is a patchwork of memory, nostalgia, hope, trauma and friendship, told through a poetic interplay of scenes from Shaq’s inner life and ‘real’ life.
Wisely, the inner life of our protagonist Shaq is presented in a dreamscape of glorious colour – the gold, green and sky-blue of open countryside – whilst his reality is in black and white. This choice swerves any unnecessary confusion but it’s also visually compelling. And it’s not all bad in reality: there is dancing, friendship and reconciliation in this two-tone world, alongside the loneliness and the loss.
It’s a striking piece on so many fronts and the performances are exquisite all round, particularly from Shaq Bynes as Shaq. The relationships between the characters are acutely brought to life through ingenious camera work: on the dancefloor, the camera is low and amongst the action; the audience invited into the intimacy of friendship, whilst a tense conversation between Shaq and his old friend is filmed like a series of portraits, portraying these men as vulnerable and profoundly detached from one another.
Gramercy is a film that trusts its audience, it will not give us all the answers but leaves us with some thinking to do: to decode the narrative and to consider the relationship between place and identity. And most importantly it is a wise piece, doing the hard work of bringing issues around mental health – specifically amongst young black men – to the fore with nuance and tenderness.