I Carry You with Me: a Deeply Moving Immigrant Love Story (Review)
I Carry You with Me blends narrative fiction and documentary aspects into the truly moving story of a gay immigrant couple.
I Carry You with Me (Te LLevo Conmigo) is the love story of two Mexican men, told over the course of decades. Imbued with a formally creative structure, the film operates as both a deeply moving romance and a compelling immigrant story. The story is perhaps more noteworthy because of the paucity of Mexican LGBT stories told on film.
The structure, here, is a fascinating gambit. The film is primarily told in flashback to two twentysomethings in the 90s, Ivan (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), as their initial tentative flirtations grow into a lasting passion. The two first meet on Ivan’s first furtive visit to a secret gay bar – Ivan is more closeted and “passes” straight in his normal life, and has a son from a previous relationship; Gerardo is more open in his sexuality, and more aggressive in his advances. They spend the night talking, and flirting, in a lovingly filmed sequence. Their different circumstances – Ivan is quite poor, but educated in the culinary arts, while Gerardo comes from means but less clearly has an avenue for success – create a compelling emotional tension in the relationship.
Peppered throughout the film are sequences with an older Ivan and Gerardo in New York in recent years. Fascinatingly, these are the actual Ivan and Gerardo whose love story is depicted by Espitia and Vazquez. The structure, while perhaps spoiling some of the emotional tension, gives the film a feeling of vibrancy, and of sadness, that would not otherwise be possible with a mere “based on a true story” title card. Circumstances, of course, require Ivan and later Gerardo to immigrate to America, and those tales are told with the sort of eye for detail that could only come from lived-in experiences.
I’m an easy mark for the emotional beats of father-son stories, but I must admit the triumvirate on display here moved me deeply with their complex texture. Gerardo’s father represents what is perhaps a more rote story of an abusive parent resentful of his son’s sexuality. But the film’s quasi-documentary structure gives the specificity of the abuse on display here an extra emotional component – when Gerardo is menacingly driven into the countryside by his drunk father, the terror is stark. That the actor who plays the young Gerardo, Nery Arredondo, is so splendidly believable only heightens the effect. Conversely, Ivan’s father’s treatment, not so much support but rather quiet acceptance, depicts a man who cannot fully accept his son’s reality but loves him nonetheless.
Much of I Carry You with Me’s emotional stakes derive from Ivan’s relationship with his own son. Born of a relationship splintered for unknown – but easy to guess – reasons, Ivan’s son creates a difficulty in his life: his romance with Gerardo must remain secret, lest his son’s mother learns of his sexual orientation and takes the child away. The complexity of a parent – Ivan very clearly loves his son – choosing to pursue opportunity in America at the expense of time with his child is explored here in heartbreaking detail. It is clear he can not properly help support his son, even sneakers are a cost too extreme, as a dishwasher despite his culinary school education and so he must pursue opportunity in America.
Director Heidi Ewing, a documentarian (Jesus Camp) by trade, has a remarkable eye for specificity in the details of this story. That she spent the better part of a decade in constant contact with the real Ivan and Gerardo has clearly helped inform her on the minutiae of these people’s lives. Little details, like a discussion of the proper way to prepare mole, shine through and make these characters feel vibrantly alive. When Ivan takes a chance and gets his first shot cooking in a restaurant in New York, the scene vibrates with the sort of excited tension of a great sports movie. We know he’ll succeed, but it’s incredibly compelling to see him go for it.
I loathe to criticize much here, but I will admit that the palpable sexual heat between Espitia and Vazquez, and their winning screen presences, seems a bit lost in the more documentarian segments focused on the real Ivan and Gerardo. I could not help but feel the actors were not quite playing the same actual human beings I was watching on the screen. Perhaps it is a language gap, or just the nature of the film’s structure, but it’s a mild complaint in a movie that’s so moving otherwise. When Ewing attempts to balance the lives that Ivan and Gerardo have lived in America with what is left behind, it moved me deeply. The director is enraged that these men have been forced to choose between love and family, between financial success and poverty.
I Carry You With Me (Te LLevo Conmigo) premiered at the New York Film Festival on Friday, October 2, and will be available to watch virtually at the Hamptons International Film Festival (to viewers based in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) on October 10-13: click here to find out more.
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