I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo)
(R / 1hr 51m / Black Bear Pictures - Loki Films - The Population)
Overview: In a fictionalized true story that spans the distance between Mexico and New York City, Ivan and Gerardo find love in each other while navigating life on either side of the United States southern border.
Verdict: The social media hype around Heidi Ewings first Spanish language feature film from the critics and creatives on social media was immense by the time I finally sat in my seat in the Maple Theaters auditorium Number Two to see it, the week after its select theatrical release. And it lived up to every single bit of it.
The film opens on Ivan (Armando Espitia), a cook, describing a recurring dream he has about being back in his native Mexico. A flashback immediately takes the viewer back to Puebla, Mexico in 1994.
Ivan works to support his young son, Ricky, always with the possibility in the back of his mind that there is a better life in the United States. When he accompanies a friend to a gay bar, Ivan finds himself flirting with a handsome fellow named Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), whose name we unfortunately do not even find out until what feels like an eternity later.
But Gerardos initial anonymity does not take away from the cute couple the guys make right from the start, flirting with a laser pointer and sharing a tender first kiss at sunset overlooking the city. And while Ivan is the better straight passing of the two of them, even he must be cagey when it comes to this part of himself.
Non-linear story telling is the name of the game as time jumps to and fro from the nineties, in which the bulk of the story takes place to both Ivan and Gerardos childhoods, highlighting the the stark contrast in the way their parents react to the homosexual tendencies their respective sons possess.
Ivans father is disappointed, but somewhat resigned to it, whereas Gerardos father displayed deep and disturbing homophobia. But the complicated family dynamic does not stop Gerardo from inviting Ivan home, where they are brushed off as being best friends.
This dialogue feels very much like a trope, but it works mostly because it needs to work. And because Espitia and Vazquez make it work. Gerardo and Ivan take the opportunity of a walk around the grounds to make out like sneaky teenagers, and this presents the biggest and most consistent problem the film has – the camera work.
There is nary a wide shot. The viewer is smushed inside every kiss and embrace, and it feels like any movement is over someones shoulder. But even this does not dampen the chemistry between the two.
When Ivan voices the desire to go to New York City, Gerardo objects, saying that they are hated over there. This is one of the most important and evocative moments in the film, especially when taken amongst the social issues of present day: What group of people are hated: Gays, or Mexicans? Or both?
Despite Gerardos pleas, Ivan begins the journey to New York with the promise of giving it one year, and with admissions of love by each.
Ivans dangerous journey across the border with his childhood friend Sandra feels reminiscent of other films with similar plots (particularly Jonas Cuarons Desierto), but the two eventually make it to the United States. From here, time flashes forward to present day New York, where Ivan expresses regret for leaving his young son behind all those years ago, saying that the American dream happens in slow motion.
Once again, the dialogue is achingly topical for the current discussion happening around migration. Back in time, during one calling card phone conversation, Gerardo informs Ivan that their year agreement has come and gone and that he has resolved to join his lover in New York.
Ivan tries to dissuade him, as does his family, but Gerardo is driven solely by love. And the emotional climax of the movie arrives when Ivan comes home from work to find Gerardo waiting on his doorstep. It is a truly wonderful moment.
Time passes as Ivan and Gerardo adjust to being together once again, including learning English together using homemade flashcards. While incredibly endearing, this once again highlights the real struggle faced by immigrants to break the language barrier.
After a while, Ivan gets to use the culinary skills he honed back home and gets his big break as a cook. He and Gerardo have a conversation about the necessity of living in hiding, and the question is asked, Can we just live?
And they do live – and live well – over a video montage used to indicate the further passing of years. Additional present-day footage has a distinct documentary feel to it, and rightfully so.
Viewers are watching the real Ivan Garcia and Gerardo Zabaleta as Ivan makes a name for himself as a chef and while they attempt to find a pathway to citizenship, which continues to be a rocky road to traverse.
Ivan expresses the worry that he is losing the connection he has to his home country, including having to see his dying father over video chat.
At this point, the film transcends narrative fiction or even documentary. You simply cannot write the emotion that saturates the final act, as the fundamental question of what we leave behind and what we take with us across our lives is put on full display. And the answer is not always cut and dry.
When the credits finally began to roll, the entire theater sat in silence for at least a minute. No one got up, no one said a word. I wonder if everyone else, like me, was in a state of contemplation. This is the impact of not only the story, but the title.
Te llevo conmigo.
I carry you with me.
Not only did Ivan and Gerardo carry their love for each other across time and distance, but they carry a love for their beloved Mexico and for their family.
They carry loss, pain, and uncertainty. And so do we carry with us a small piece of all who cross our path, especially the ones whom we love the most, and all the places and circumstances that help to shape us.
And among the things I will carry with me for a while to come is this stunning work of cinematic art.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte