“Story Ave” is billed as “a story by The Bronx,” which feels fitting — the borough is a major character. Shooting in a narrow aspect ratio, the director, Aristotle Torres, who expanded this debut feature from a short, seems as interested in capturing snapshots of a cinematically neglected pocket of New York — its graffiti murals, its alleyways, its restaurants tucked under elevated train tracks — as he is in the plot. (The title refers to a fictitious subway stop along the 6 line.)
The protagonist is Kadir (Asante Blackk), a high schooler grappling with the recent accidental death of his brother. His mother is grieving too, but is ill-equipped to help him cope. Without a sturdy parental figure, Kadir, who has serious artistic potential — pictures of his brother are a signature — is tested by Skemes (Melvin Gregg), the leader of a graffiti gang, who tells him to commit a holdup.
But when Kadir chooses an M.T.A. worker, Luis (Luis Guzmán), on a deserted subway platform, his would-be mark instead invites him for Cuban sandwiches at a spot downstairs. Luis bargains away the gun Kadir is carrying, and their eventual friendship gives the movie its most assured and confidently played scenes. (Torres wrote the script with Bonsu Thompson.)
The film is cleareyed about Kadir’s artistic values and the potentially dangerous outcomes of his decisions. (Skemes is revealed to have made a similar choice between the art world and gangs.) “Story Ave” is marred by late revelations that appear designed, in a studio-notes sort of way, to clarify motivations. What’s unspoken — and what’s seen — does enough.
Not rated. In English and Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.