I Carry You with Me
(Mexico/USA, 111 min.)
Dir. Heidi Ewing
How many love stories can say they’ve spanned decades, crossed borders, and traversed genres? The relationship between Iván and Gerardo fuels a tender tale of migration and belonging in I Carry You with Me. This sensitively told dramatic feature from Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, One of Us) draws upon a career of observing the lives, loves, and struggles of people from all walks of life. Ewing uses her background in documentary to harness her skills in affording characters agency while sharing their stories with the world. This hybrid drama smartly sees Iván and Gerardo straddling two worlds—fiction and non-fiction—as they navigate their lives in their native Mexico and their adopted homeland of the USA. I Carry You with Me is a bittersweet love story for the ages and a telling portrait of the families and lives fractured by America’s strident immigration policies.
Images of a man—middle-aged, greying, and wearing lifetimes of experiences on his face—move fleeting through the film’s opening frames as Iván rides the subway in New York City. As the car whizzes past poles, through neighbourhoods, and by platforms, Iván’s path intersects with the lives of many souls that, like him, left one world to start fresh in another. The speeding train evokes the memory of Iván’s former life in Mexico and the images transition from contemporary documentary to a dramatic interpretation of his youth. Played by Armando Espitia, young Iván is a romantic and an idealist. He works in a kitchen, washing dishes and bussing tables with hopes of finally putting his skills as a chef to use.
Iván works very hard to provide for his young son, Ricky (Jose Ángel Garrido) who lives with Iván’s ex, Paola (Michelle González). The reason for the estrangement between Iván and Paola goes unsaid, but Iván’s perceptible comfort in the company of men makes the reason clear. Iván radiates joy when he goes to a bar with his friend, Sandra (Michelle Rodríguez), and meets Gerardo (Christian Vázquez). A student and teaching assistant, Gerardo is more comfortable in life, but he is also more settled spiritually compared to Iván. Gerardo is openly gay, whereas Iván keeps his true self a secret out of fear that coming out means that he’ll never see Ricky again. As their relationship blossoms, it becomes a journey of navigating comfort zones, safe spaces, and self-love.
However, Iván’s fears are soon realised and he concedes that life in Mexico offers little future. He bids a tearful—and temporary—farewell to Gerardo and embarks with Sandra on the dangerous trek to the border’s other side. The smugglers whom Iván and Sandra pay to guide them to the States are openly ready to leave them for dead—and think that the plus-sized Sandra is a liability—yet Iván is unwilling to leave his lifelong friend, and last connection to Mexico, behind. Ewing realises this portrait of the human flow with nerve-wracking care. Helicopters whir overhead, reminding everyone that a single misstep could send them back. The night is dark and the terrain is rocky, and even though the outcome is clear thanks to the real Iván’s appearance earlier in the film, one watches breathlessly as the journey unfolds.
Life in the States offers Iván renewed prosperity, but it brings another set of hardships. Gerardo tries, unsuccessfully, to visit and is denied entry at the border. However, the distance only strengthens their desire to be together and, like Iván, Gerardo leaves everything behind for life in the USA.
They flourish as I Carry You with Me shifts to the present day. Ewing seamlessly flashes forward to let the real Iván and Gerardo tell their own story. Intimate scenes of cinema verité observe as the two men enjoy the fruits of their twenty-year marriage. They’re fully committed and allowed to celebrate their love. Iván has also realised his dream and runs a restaurant. It injects authentic Mexican flavour into his community—full of cilantro to defy the parsley-loving Americans—and offers a sense of prosperity of which he could only dream back home. However, his illegal status means that he can’t return to Mexico to see Ricky, for there would be no chance to return. Ricky, growing up in the age of America’s tightened policy towards immigration and growing hostility to Latino migrants, has no success in his efforts to visit. Iván learns to preserve a relationship despite two decades apart. His earlier distance from Gerardo simply taught him how to carry one’s love wherever one travels.
Ewing’s openhearted docu-drama approach illustrates how a migrant’s feet might never be firmly rooted despite doing all it takes to realise the American dream. Despite their love and success, Iván and Gerardo live with a sense of loss daily. Moreover, they find themselves in a double bind because going home means losing everything they worked for and starting anew in the land they left.
These images of the present-day Iván and Gerardo are touching and heart-rending as the film observes the men caught between their old lives and the ones they’ve established. Whether their story unfolds as drama or in documentary form, Iván and Gerardo’s relationship carries a spark. Espitia and Vázquez embody Iván and Gerardo’s younger selves remarkably. Seeing the true subjects and the dramatic interpretations lets one appreciate how richly the actors embody the men’s sprits. Ewing’s progression into drama is seamless as it bears the respect for her subjects and eye for authenticity of her best documentary work.
Ewing’s portrait is a bittersweet study of the lives of her two friends through which one can see a multiplicity of experiences in the American mosaic. She doesn’t romanticise their story, nor does she overemphasize their loss and pain. I Carry You with Me is, above all, a love story and each frame of the film resonates with tenderness.
I Carry You with Me opens in theatres on August 20.