The past is often a woozy, romanticized dream that’s enticing to get lost in. In I Carry You With Me, director Heidi Ewing’s first foray into narrative filmmaking replicates the dizzying memories of real life subjects and partners Iván Garcia and Gerardo Zabaleta, from their Mexico City meet cute to their much darker memories of being gay in conservative families.
A majority of I Carry You With Me takes place in the Nineties, following Iván (Espitia) and Gerardo (Vázquez). A color palette of soft pastels and neons evokes a swirling, luscious romance that engrosses the viewer, inviting them into Iván and Gerardo’s passionate relationship. Their initial meeting is something out of a Wong Kar-wai film: eyes meeting each other across the colorfully lit gay bar, quietly slipping into a room lit by the chaos of the night, close-ups of impassioned kisses and soft caresses. It’s beautiful filmmaking from Ewing.
But Gerardo isn’t the only one at the center of Iván’s heart: He has dreams of becoming a chef, not just for himself, but so he can build a career that supports his son. It’s because of this that Iván starts to consider immigrating to the United States, crossing the border to build a better future for his son. But chasing the American dream comes at a cost, and puts his relationship at risk. As the story dives more into Iván’s past, the romance Ewing did such a wonderful job building up starts to get overshadowed. I Carry You With Me tackles a lot – familial homophobia, immigration, and parenthood struggles, all of it crammed in to serve the “based on a true story” narrative, a narrative that starts to mold into documentary toward the end when the story catches up with the present.
Ewing goes back to her filmmaking roots for the final moments of the film, melting documentary components into her rendition of Iván’s story. There is a bold ambition when it comes to fusing documentary and narrative filmmaking, but it’s an extremely difficult path on which to find cohesion. Editor Enat Sidi does her best, teasing in the real Iván prior to the film’s final third, but the contrast of documentary after such artfully directed narrative is too stark and feels bumpy. It’s a commendable experiment, and it’s truly touching to see the real faces behind the story, but it’s a contrast that’s too sharp to recover from.
Admirable efforts aside, I Carry You With Me is still an enchanting mix of drama and romance, but also a timely, poetic love letter to Iván’s home country, Mexico. The colors that dance across his memories are wrapped up in the mole and charred chiles he cooks, a taste of the home he adores, a home he cannot return to in the near future for fear of being deported. In the end, it’s clear the “you” that Iván carries is not Gerardo at all, but the memories of a country he grew up in.
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