The greatest love stories cannot be constructed from fiction. Heidi Ewing’s mesmerizing LGBTQ+ Mexican drama I Carry You With Me authenticates the extraordinary romance between Iván (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vázquez). The pair are a real-life gay Mexican couple who agreed to play themselves in flash-forward scenes depicting their current age and relationship status. Fitting of a Sundance entry, the international stunner applies an experimental technique to its narrative: the flashbacks are entirely cinematic, with real actors and sets; the present-day segments, meanwhile, are shot like a documentary to establish the ongoing reality of the drama’s true subjects. The hybrid presentation is not as seamless and cohesive as it could be — and somewhere along the way, the romance feels more supplemental than imperative — but there is no denying that the time-spanning courtship raises the bar on representational integrity.
Preserving one’s dream is a major theme in this cross-genre saga. Looking back, even during hardships and sacrifice, dreams seem to be that abstract, magical fuel that makes the surrounding world a little more hopeful than it is. Perhaps this is why Ewing’s flashbacks have a lulling and illusory quality to them. Cinema captures life at its most vibrant yet intense, while reality tends to feel more monotonously claustrophobic, especially when time begins closing the window of achieving total happiness. For young Iván, an aspiring chef in the early stages of adulthood — who is held back from employers who remind him he should be grateful for even having a dishwashing job — he knows that if he doesn’t seize the opportunity to pursue his career in America, he’ll live to regret it.
The conflict centers on what Iván leaves behind to make such hopes actualized. One of these wrinkles is a stunningly attractive young teacher, Gerardo, who he meets at a gay club one night, making Iván rethink his long-term goals. Sometimes love hits you so hard and so beautifully that all you want to do is soak in it forever without equal desire — but life has a way of reminding you that your romantic bubble isn’t an impenetrable forcefield.
On top of a new crush, Iván is also contending with being closeted, a secret neither his family nor ex-girlfriend Paola (Michelle González) knows about. He shares a young son with his former partner and plans to send back money to support his boy in the event that his immigration to New York proves successful. Sadly, admitting his sexuality would not only bring “shame” to his family, but Paola would immediately cut off any child visitation privileges. As it turns out, the best way to ensure his son is provided for without a scarred childhood is for Iván to distance himself completely. However, does this mean bringing Gerardo to the United States with him, who has an even more sordid relationship with his family regarding their thoughts on appropriate masculinity?
There are even flashbacks for the flashbacks, as we witness an even younger, petrified Gerardo being emotionally abused by his terrorizing father. It seems the deeper the pride, the deeper the homophobia. His dad views his family’s agriculture business struggles as gargantuan enough to deal with. Adding a gay son into the mix would only further underscore their lowly social stature. I find it fascinating that certain families and cultures define their worth by their pride and dignity when it’s those same characteristics that do more harm than good to their loved ones, who cannot (nor should) conform to meet some of the impossible standards set before them. Humans love to bend over backward for groups of people they don’t know personally while making the ones they allegedly care for suffering if they don’t fall in line. When will people come to realize that a community is only as strong as the tolerance it shows to all its members?
I Carry You With Me is about bearing the burden of sacrifice and hope, believing that the arduous journey of undocumented immigration has long-term merit. Who would ever leave their home unless the circumstances weren’t dire enough? Iván loves his son more than anything in the world, but he also deserves a shot at happiness and the freedom to be his authentic self. Furthermore, the kid reaps the benefit of Iván’s successes, though the separation across the years does take a severe toll. Feelings of guilt, regret, and utter remorse at missing key milestones make the adult Iván question his decision to come to America.
Ewing allows Iván’s personal journey to be the sole commentator on the issue of immigration. The narrative refuses to judge Mexico as a moralistic whole. Instead, the drama casts a light on bigotry driven by a genuine fear of the systems that govern everyday living, be it political, religious, or any other authoritative entity that denies self-expression.
As mentioned above, I Carry You With Me loses a bit of romantic traction along the way. At times, I felt Gerardo and Iván’s relationship was taken for granted rather than fully explored and cherished. The contrasting genres don’t help with nourishing their union, especially when so many LGBTQ+ onscreen love stories ooze undeniable passion and longing. As is often the case, when too many thematic beats and conflicts are being addressed in a script, there are bound to be areas that feel shortchanged. It’s just a bummer that the romance, so heavily marketed to audiences, happens to be one of them.
Still, Ewing has crafted a touching, respectful, and generous drama that serves undeniable realness to both the immigrant and “coming out” experiences. Despite battling two personal dilemmas that compound so scarily, it’s the soft touch of empathy and Iván’s sweet resilience that truly carries this indie gem.