Set between vast fields and small kitchens, Heidi Ewing’s sweeping feature I Carry You with Me (Te Llevo Conmigo) tells the love story of Iván (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) as it spans time and geographies. Iván, an aspiring chef who starts as a janitor, and Gerardo, a professor, travel on subways and buses through New York and Mexico, facing their relationship, families, and larger worlds. The film is the first narrative feature from Ewing, who is best known for her documentary work, including 2006’s Jesus Camp. Based on a true story, I Carry You with Me is visually lush, structurally inventive, and successful in its specificity.
The film opens with Iván’s recurring dream of returning to Mexico. Each time, he wakes with the sweaty realization that he cannot return. We flashback to Iván’s childhood, where his mom makes quinceañera dresses. One day his dad finds him in one with a full face of Madonna-style makeup, applied by his best friend Sandra (Alexia Morales). (“For such a handsome guy, you make a pretty ugly girl,” she tells him.) His dad’s reaction is one of many homophobic moments Iván faces. Later, we witness a similar moment in Gerardo’s narrative, when his dad asks if he knows that “people like [him]” are killed and “tossed into the mountains.”
Throughout, the film grapples with the perception and visibility of the queer and migrant body. The couple navigates how and where they are “out,” and at one point Iván tells Gerardo he could have taught him how to pass as a child. Not only do the protagonists experience moments of homophobia (internalized and externalized), they also express their feelings about how Mexico and later the United States sees queer people and (undocumented) immigrants. “They hate us here,” an older Sandra (played by Michelle Rodríquez) tells Iván in New York, wanting to return home. Still, the film asserts glowing moments of community in Mexico and New York, particularly inside bars and restaurants.
I Carry You with Me, with its notable cinematography by Juan Pablo Ramírez, is told in contrasting colors of green and red: peppers and pomegranate seeds, red kitchen bandanas and cilantro, club lighting recalling the paintings of Salman Toor and a red laser with which Gerardo first gets Iván’s attention. This style is coupled with a confident, queer, non-linear structure that blurs memories and dreams. Ewing deftly interweaves the couple’s two stories and captures the ways the past seeps into the present. “The American Dream happens in slow motion,” Iván tells his son after not seeing him for fourteen years. After meeting with a lawyer, Iván realizes he still can’t see him, stuck within the limitations of their immigration status (and, more specifically living the consequences of political inaction). Here and elsewhere, the film conveys a realistic circumstance without the too-common trappings of generalization or reduction when portraying marginalized characters. In I Carry You with Me, the longing between leaving and returning is always felt — and remembered.
I Carry You with Me (Te Llevo Conmigo) opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on June 25. A national release will follow.