There is a line in I Carry You With Me that stuck with me long after the credits rolled. “The American dream happens in slow motion.” It is a line that strongly reminds me of my parents and their tumultuous yet adventurous experience making a better life in America as immigrants. Director Heidi Ewing, who typically has been known to dabble in documentaries, makes her narrative debut about the trials and tribulations of a relationship between two Mexican men and their pursuit of the American dream as they come to know it. Last year’s groundbreaking Minari gave us a different glimpse into the American dream. This year, Heidi Ewing serves up a sweeping narrative based on the true story of her two subjects spanning decades. This mighty feat marries both the focused and gritty nature of a documentary with a well-acted drama.
Winner of Sundance’s NEXT Innovator award and overall NEXT audience award, I Carry You With Me is an LGBTQ film from Mexico. How often do you get to hear that? Not often, part of what makes the film such an important and landmark film is its ability to convey a love story without making such a big deal that our two characters are gay. Sure, there are political commentaries here and there. Still, the story’s crux revolves around this madly in love Mexican couple trying to make it in life and leave behind the doldrums of their everyday unsatisfying lives.
Armando Espitia plays young Ivan, an aspiring chef who is relegated to dishwashing and is constantly turned down by his boss whenever he asks for a promotion. It is a modest life for sure; he comes home to his tiny apartment and shares a few drinks with his best friend and charismatic confidant, Sandra (Michelle Rodríguez), before hitting the nightclub where he ultimately finds his match. Christian Vasquez plays young Gerardo, a suave-talking, more experienced, and a lot more openly Gay than Ivan is. The two share quite the romantic night, but it’s uneasy, and a bit tenuous at first since Ivan has a kid with his ex-girlfriend who has no idea he’s gay, and her finding out could irrecoverably doom his chances of ever seeing his kid again. It’s a slippery slope given the intense homophobic climate in his society, and so Ivan decides to set a course across the border, leaving his child and his boyfriend behind. He is joined by Sandra on his trek across the dark Mexican desert, and it is genuinely the most nerve-wracking scene in the film. I won’t spoil what ordeal takes place, but I have to say it fully captures what it probably is like for Mexican immigrants crossing the border. The scene is rife with tension, uncertainty, and a sense of dread that hardly lets up.
Ivan eventually makes it across and soon finds himself in New York City, seeing this vibrant, booming city as a place of opportunity and a real shot at becoming the chef he longed to be back in Mexico. We get to see Ivan hustle his way to paycheck to paycheck, doing odd jobs and, of course, dishwashing again but at the same time learning English and bettering himself for whatever comes next. He has a plan in place, and he will see it through. Meanwhile, back in Mexico, Gerardo is missing him more and more and ultimately decides to join him in his new life in New York City. I Carry You With Me jumps between two decades; while some may find the time jumps a bit jarring and inconsequential, the jumps provide worthwhile looks into the lives of our two leads. We get to explore Ivan’s youth; while coping with his newly discovered sexuality as he tries on dresses and gets a makeover by Sandra. We get to explore his adult life, played by the real Ivan and Gerardo played by the real guy, in moments that vastly compliment the flashbacks and solidify what this whole journey was about in the first place.
I don’t want to spoil what becomes of Ivan and Gerardo in the end, but I will say that Ewing crafted an epic retelling of their experiences and hardships. I adored how the story is told so sweetly, yet it is gritty and realistic, a true testament to Ewing’s documentary-style maneuvers and techniques. She uses many shadows and silhouettes, captivating shots of Mexican alleyways and street markets, and she captures the hustle and bustle of New York City in dark blues and reds.
I Carry You With Me is a visually striking film that is well-acted and filled to the brim with important messaging and memorable lines that I will never forget. One such line was, “I often mistake my dreams for memories,” a line told by Ivan when he is reminiscing of his time in Mexico and the longing for the sights and smells of his now-estranged homeland. I Carry You With Me is a love story, and it’s a damn good one. Some may find the film’s ambiguous ending a turnoff, but I found it contemplative and quite faithful to the story. This story is still writing itself; life goes on no matter what decisions one makes.
I Carry You With Me is slated for a June 25th release in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.
I Carry You With Me
- Rating - 9.5/109.5/10
I Carry You With Me is a visually striking film that is well-acted and filled to the brim with important messaging and memorable lines that I will never forget.