Grief hangs thick in the air in I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo), a story of affection not defeated yet tried by constraints of culture, country and law.
What distinguishes this first narrative component from documentarian Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, One of Us), aside from a swoony mix of realism and romanticism that periodically brings to mind ongoing eccentric cinema milestones like Moonlight, are its range and degree. Tracing the many years spanning relationship between two Mexican men, from the first starts of flirtation to committed coupledom, the film glides to and fro in time, between countries, through memories, mind-sets and reveries. With nearly Malickian impressionistic flair and a stealthily innovative mix of fictional and nonfictional elements, I Carry You With Me pulls you past its shortcomings, building toward a quieted shocker of a conclusion.
Ewing's execution isn't generally up to her ambition. There are awkward contacts, stray clichés, moments when the dramatization's marvelous, magic-hour lyricism verges on preciousness. Be that as it may, the poignancy of the material, and of the director's methodology, prevails. This is an intimate epic, imbued with a glow and a delicacy that radiate from both behind and before the camera.
It's likewise tenderly yet earnestly political. I Carry You With Me navigates a jam-packed intersection of serious subjects (homophobia, immigration, neediness, prejudice), just occasionally straining under all the thematic weight; some of the dialog and characterizations feel excessively streamlined, simplified in request to permit Ewing and co-screenwriter Alan Page Arriaga to pack a ton of incident into a 111-minute running time. Refreshingly, however, the film invokes a vivid feeling of injustice — of lives thrown unfeelingly off base by powers outside individual ability to control — without slipping into Ken Loach-style stridency or didacticism. It's a stirring, profoundly sincere movie, and one you pull for — especially when it becomes evident that this account of longing, of dislocation both physical and emotional, is valid and still unfolding.
The plotline on which I Carry You With Me pivots is set in 1994 Puebla city, not a long way from Mexico City. Ivan (heartfelt, dismal peered toward Armando Espitia), a financially struggling, closeted gay man isolated from his wife, with whom he has a young child, works long, damp with sweat shifts washing dishes at an eatery. Be that as it may, he has his sights set on a higher bar in the kitchen hierarchy: An alum of culinary school, Ivan aspires to be a gourmet expert specializing in the traditional dishes he grew up preparing and eating with his folks.
One night, Ivan and childhood friend Sandra (the appealing Michelle Rodríguez) head to an underground gay bar to let out some pent up frustration. From across the dance floor, he stares at Gerardo (Christian Vázquez), a dashing instructor from an agreeable, land-owning family in Chiapas. They open up to one another over lager and cigarettes, swapping accounts about growing up eccentric in a Catholic country (Gerardo prods the more "butch"- presenting Ivan about "passing"), watching the sun rise and sharing a pleasantly arousing first kiss.
As the two tiptoe toward courtship, I Carry You With Me subsides into a free yet intricate nonlinear construction, additionally becoming something of a kind drinking spree: In addition to drifting into the past (childhood flashbacks show Ivan giddily trying on a quinceañera dress and Gerardo being manhandled by a sadistic dad), the film offers what we come to comprehend are vérité glimpses of the reality, present-day Ivan and Gerardo (Ewing went through the previous quite a while gathering film of them, however to expound further would risk spoiling the story's delicate anticipation and emotional impact). The shifting among three time frames permits the filmmakers to minimize expository clunkiness while illuminating why these individuals settle on the choices they do. It likewise gives the film its scale, tone and surface; Ewing makes a mosaic of feeling, an enveloping environment of yearning and nostalgia improved by the rich undertows of Jay Wadley's affecting score.
The turning point in the focal, '90s-set storyline comes when Ivan's wife realizes he has a boyfriend and takes steps to cut him off from their child. Frantic however determined, Ivan decides to "get over": he will likely find a new line of work cooking in a New York eatery, set aside cash for his child and get back to Mexico following a year to kick-start his profession. Ivan, obviously, has fallen hard for Gerardo, and requests that he come along. However, Gerardo shies away: "That spot annihilates individuals with loneliness," he cautions.
Ivan convinces Sandra to join him instead, and one harrowing journey across the desert later, they're on American soil. Ultimately settling in Queens, Ivan scratches by washing vehicles and delivering food. Tiny contacts catch the disorienting moment-to-moment vulnerability of the undocumented experience — including how worn-out ordinary obnoxiousness, like a gathering of alcoholic understudies calling out to Ivan as he makes a delivery, can take on an inclination of genuine menace.
The remainder of I Carry You With Me unfurls in manners both startling and inevitable, wrenching and confident. Ewing and Arriaga sketch in the two protagonists — their differences in temperament and foundation — with deft, if slightly expansive, strokes. One could complain that Ivan and Gerardo have not many of the barbed edges, the imperfections and contradictions typical of the most compelling screen figures. In any case, their elegance and fairness are important for what makes them, and their story, so touching; these are kind individuals, whose adaptability, patience and creativity assist them with persevering significantly unkind circumstances.
Ewing's documentary bona fides are evident in her eye for authentic detail — the manner in which Ivan taps a pepper for ripeness prior to buying it, or the explosive, machismo-energized energy of a bustling eatery kitchen. Sometimes that instinct for verisimilitude serves her less effectively; a drag lip-sync execution of a pop number at a nightclub, for instance, feels like filler, taking up time that might have been all the more deliberately spent pulling us nearer to the main characters.
Visually, I Carry You With Me is fluid and painstakingly made beginning to end. Anxious handheld camerawork reinforces a feeling of agitated lives, and the city of Puebla, with its rain-slicked cobblestone roads and markets bursting with shading, is brought to vibrant, romantic life.
Meanwhile, the meaning of the title (itself dubiously reminiscent of an e.e. cummings sonnet) — the notion of who, for sure, is being "carried" — appears to change as this chronicle of adoration and misfortune, sacrifice and resilience, advances. Such a shift is fitting for a film that grows and develops, revealing itself slowly, its reverberation not completely felt until the closing credits roll.
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