I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo), the narrative feature length debut of director Heidi Ewing, an Oscar nominee for the 2006 short film Jesus Camp, is an epic story of love discovered, lost and regained. A heartbreaking immigration chronicle, sweeping across two countries and spanning several decades. And a wondrous meditation on family and the places that we call home. This quietly devastating yet uplifting film finds the ways that people can build up and break themselves down. Brimming with the politics of the day but not nearly as political as may be expected, I Carry You With Me interrogates the extents of our humanity while explicitly detailing a person’s right to exist, to be seen, to love and to actualize their agency.
Based on the remarkable real-life story of a same sex couple, I Carry You With Me has at its soulful center, Iván (Armando Espita), a closeted Mexican young man, emotionally tormented from years of hiding behind a heteronormative appearance. He is also frustrated by the economic conditions of his home country, unable to get a decent restaurant job despite his certifications. Increasingly unable to support his son and estranged from the boy’s mother, Iván decides on making the dangerous border crossing to America where he is convinced a better life awaits him.
On the other side of this sweeping love story is Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), a teacher who enjoys much fancier economic conditions. The two, meet cute at a party, locking eyes across a room full of several bodies. Despite the instant, sizzling chemistry between the actors who play the young lovers and the convincing performances submitted, their quiet conversation moments later has no way of hinting that a love story for the ages is about to play out.
Director of Photography Juan Pablo Ramírez observes the two men in loving intimate detail using dark shadows, muted colors and an afterglow that extends to the city revolving around the two men. As they settle into getting to know each other, Ewing who is clearly fascinated by the lives she is chronicling employs a non-linear structure that glides back and forth between both men, their memories, lived experiences and their yearnings.
There are so many lives that can be lived in one lifetime and for Iván and Gerardo it often seems so. Ewing working from a screenplay credited to herself and Alan Page Arriaga traces the intersections between poverty, homophobia, discrimination and how these are unconsciously tied into the lives of her protagonists and responsible for the decisions that they make.
Iván eventually makes the crossing to America, taking the enormous risk to live as undocumented. Upon arrival, he goes through the usual immigration challenges and in a moment of defeat, asks Iván to move on without him. Gerardo on his part is also affected by the process. He endures a particularly degrading experience while attempting to visit his soulmate via legitimate means. Anyone who has ever filled in a visa application can relate all too well to this scenario. Distraught and consumed with his affection for Iván, Gerardo comes to a life changing decision of his own.
Unable to let go of her documentary background, Ewing accomplishes a startling shift for the movie’s final act, an unending stream of cinema verité that is sure to bring on the waterworks, even among the most stoic of viewers. She interrogates the merits of the American dream, the individual’s right to self-actualization and the ascribed role of the state in keeping loved ones apart. The meaning of the film’s title, loosely based on an E.E Cummings poem thus shifts along with the plot developments, moving from constructs of romantic love to deeply held patriotic emotions and the heart’s longing for a place to call home. The festival’s NEXT section is the suitable home for this incredible piece of cinema, one that works so hard to effortlessly discard established formats for storytelling while bending the form and presenting fresh ways of tackling age old, familiar stories. I Carry You With Me is a life affirming triumph.