The latest film from Saul Abraham is a tender look at male mental health but one which is not commonly seen on screen. Enjoy follows Michael, who is portrayed with heart and humour by Himesh Patel, as he seeks to face his spiralling depression through a variety of recommended methods. It’s a slow and reflective drama which asks questions of our own interiority and suggests that the solutions can sometimes be found in the most unexpected sources. DN caught up with Abraham following Enjoy’s Tribeca world premiere to discuss the themes surrounding mental health he was looking to explore, the process of working with the charity Mind to carefully create a truthful portrayal of depression, and the collaborative dynamic he fostered on-set between actors of different generations.
How have you found the reactions to Enjoy coming out of Tribeca? Have they surprised you in any way?
It’s been incredible to watch the response to the film. It’s the ultimate compliment when something you make resonates with people. I think there is always an element of surprise when it happens to be honest. Callum (Cameron) and I put so much of ourselves into it so we are honoured to see it go off and have a life without us.
What were you looking to explore thematically with Enjoy?
We wanted to approach men’s mental health in a way I feel we rarely see depicted on screen. Although in different life stages, Michael and Archie are both suffering with neither having the language to express it. As Michael retreats into himself, Archie acts out – both reactions to not understanding their sadness. On the surface they both have solid support networks – Michael has a loving girlfriend in Katie, Archie a doting mother in Laura. However they feel they don’t have the right to be sad when everything around them is okay, which prevents them from talking even more.
We felt that often in cinema, stories centred around masculinity focus on something physical or ‘macho’ as a vehicle to show a character’s crisis underneath. In Enjoy, neither character is overtly masculine or needs to assert their authority in the classic patriarchal sense, yet they still can’t show vulnerability. This film aimed to shed light on what is entrenched in men as a whole.
How did you look to apply those themes into this script-based narrative?
So the film is based on writer Callum Cameron’s real experiences as a home tutor. He very beautifully used that teacher and pupil dynamic as a vehicle to explore those themes on mental health across different generations of males. I was struck by how delicately he handled feelings of misery, guilt, shame and worry whilst still making something warm, hopeful and funny. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at times when first reading the script. It’s so hard to strike that right balance and he did it beautifully.
This film aimed to shed light on what is entrenched in men as a whole.
How would you describe your working relationship with Callum? How much input do you have in the scriptwriting process, and how did you find adapting his words for the screen?
Callum was fully in the trenches with me every step of the way on this. The story is very personal to him so it made sense for him to be part of everything and I loved that collaboration. We developed the script together over a number of years and it became a vehicle in which we were able to talk about our own feelings. We’ve been friends for years but by going through this process together we’ve become closer and able to talk about things more easily than we may have done in the past which is probably the best thing to come out of the film personally. I’m very proud of him.
What precautions as a filmmaker did you take when it came to portraying depression on screen?
Yeah, good question. Telling something honest and truthful about depression was very important to us as I feel the subject matter is sometimes used lazily as a device or as a secondary character trait in films – we really didn’t want that. I guess firstly as so much of it was drawn from our own experiences it was truthful. It wasn’t like research was needed into something we didn’t understand. Also, once we had a draft of the script we worked with the mental health charity Mind who were really helpful in making sure we were taking the right precautions.
Michael, as a character, explores a variety of recommended methods to deal with his spiralling mental health, was there anything in particular about these methods that inspired you to include them in Enjoy?
Probably because we’ve tried them ourselves! I think also having Michael try these different methods show that he is aware of his feelings and is trying to do something about it but just doesn’t understand them enough to be able to talk. Similar to my earlier point about moving away from a man not being able to talk out of fear of appearing weak – Michael is actually the opposite, he doesn’t care about that, he is aware of what’s happening and is actively trying to help himself but still can’t open up. Also, a lido is just a cool place to film!
When it came to the cinematography, how did you look to depict Michael’s experiences visually with the camera, in regards to movement and pacing?
We wanted to tell this story in a simple way to let the story and characters take centre stage. We placed Michael in large, static wides to enhance his feeling of loneliness and disconnection from the outside world. However, as the story progresses and Michael’s world begins to change we gradually get closer. Similarly the only time we went handheld was at the lido to really show him trying to escape from his thoughts.
How was it working with Himesh Patel, what do you think he brought to the film?
We love working with Himesh. He’s been a friend of ours for a while now but this was the first time we’ve worked with him. The role was written for him and we were so happy when he responded to the script and wanted to be involved. He so beautifully balances the comedy and drama and created a believable and real character with actually very few lines which in a short film is so hard to do.
Similarly, how was it creating scenes between him and younger actor Tom Sweet? The dynamic between those two was the emotional core of the film for me, and brilliant to watch.
Tom Sweet blew us all away. We auditioned so many kids with our Casting Director Heather Basten and also had chemistry reads with Himesh and a few of our favourites. Tom perfectly balanced the spoilt brat element to the character whilst also getting us to feel for him. Such an intelligent actor for someone so young, it was a joy to work with him. I think he also enjoyed bullying Himesh in that scene which you can probably tell!
I feel the subject matter is sometimes used lazily as a device or as a secondary character trait in films.
How long did the shoot take from start to finish and did you face any hurdles along the way?
It was a three day shoot. The last day at the lido being a very wet and cold one. I guess making a short film for very little money during the pandemic was the main challenge. Lots of postponements and re-planning but we were lucky to have such an amazing team who brought it together and ensured it was done in a safe way.
What are some of the key filmmaking lessons you learnt on Enjoy that you’ll be taking into your future projects?
Oh so many! I feel like after every project I come away feeling like I could write a book about all the things that I’ve learnt. But that’s one of the things that’s so exciting about filmmaking. Every day is a school day.
With Enjoy in the midst of its festival run do you have anything else in the pipeline work-wise?
A few things in the works but at the moment we’re just trying to enjoy this little run at festivals. I’ve definitely been on the other side before when you’ve poured everything into a project and it doesn’t get an audience so to premiere at Tribeca and people outside of our little bubble to see the film and respond so positively to it is such a big compliment.