“I Carry You With Me” is an innovative take on the classic “coming to America” immigrant saga.
It’s not just about Mexicans longing to travel north for opportunity and freedom. The couple here are gay, so their hopes are to be more open about their relationship in a culture more tolerant than Catholic, machismo-addicted Mexico.
Their story is told as a docudrama. The film lives in three timelines. In their childhood, little Ivan quickly learned “to pass,” to keep his sexuality hidden, but wealthier Gerardo didn’t, and they both picked up on the dangerous intolerance that faced them as adults, occasionally in the cruelest ways. We spend much of the movie in their young adult years, where the aspiring chef Ivan (Armando Espitia, terrific) meets graduate student Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), both of them far from home, in the city of Puebla. They talk of their dreams, and one decides he simply must “cross over” into America.
And decades later, we spend time with the real Ivan and Gerardo, living in New York, successful but trapped, unable to leave or travel by plane because of they both crossed-over illegally.
Family members age and die, and Ivan feels the tug of the son he fathered but didn’t raise and hasn’t seen for decades, a boy and then young man repeatedly denied a VISA because US Immigration officials have an idea of what he’ll do if he “crosses over.”
Director and co-writer Heidi Ewing presents this story in the sad tones of an elegy to all you give up and what you’re driven to do to make this struggle and separation “worth it.”
Cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramirez paints his picture in muted blues, underlit interiors, early mornings and mid-twilight to match the soft conversations, the tender courtship.
It’s a familiar narrative that leans toward melodrama, and even the dramatic moments avoid loud confrontations.
One child is slower experiencing what is “wrong” about his gender dysphoria. Why CAN’T he have a quinceañera? A boy is dragged into the desert by a father furious at him and himself for “not teaching you to be a MAN,” (in Spanish with English subtitles). “Do you know what happens to people like you? They get killed, and then dumped in the mountains!”
The coyote-assisted “crossing over” is both a classic rite of passage and a trope of such narratives, fraught in familiar but entirely believable ways. The threat of deportation is an unseen helicopter at night, an unsympathetic border agent, nothing more overt.
The film doesn’t judge the characters for the fateful choices they make, but it does have them rationalize them to each other in the debates about something that will separate the couple, perhaps forever. The wealthier, more educated Gerardo laments about “What will you DO in California?” should that be where Ivan ends up. Pick fruit?
“We’re gays. We don’t PICK avocadoes!”
The triumph of Ewing’s film is that it packages the American Dream for those who long to come here as rewarding and justified, but sometimes selfish and ill-considered with trade-offs that make the migrants and the viewer wonder if it all was worth it.
Telling a loved one “I carry you with me” is never enough.
MPA Rating: R for brief nudity and profanity
Cast: Armando Espitia, Christian Vazquez
Credits: Directed by Heidi Ewing, script by Heidi Ewing and Alan Page. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:52