NYFF REVIEW: ‘I Carry You With Me’ (2020) Tenderly Examines the Price of the American Dream

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“An emotionally evocative blend of fiction and reality.”

On their first night together, Iván (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vásquez) stare out at a blue tinged sunrise. Though they have only been onscreen for a matter of minutes, there is already an ache; this night may mark the dawn of their relationship, but the future ominously looms over them. More than a love story, I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo) (2020) tells an immigrant tale of longing and sacrifice. With immense empathy for its characters, this film probes at the myth of the American dream and revels in the melancholy its premise promises. 

The film opens in Puebla City, Mexico where closeted young father and aspiring chef Iván struggles to find a place for himself. Despite a degree from culinary school, his desire to be in the kitchen is constantly dismissed by a boss who relegates him to washing dishes and cleaning toilets. Somehow, Iván still  brims with determination, envisioning a future where he finally puts his passion to use. But with promotion nowhere in sight and the threat of being outed weighing on him, this dream seems terribly far off. He soothes these frustrations with the help of Sandra (Michelle Rodríguez), a glowing presence onscreen and Iván’s best friend. Together they find a club fit for fun and dancing their worries away. It’s there that Iván locks eyes with Gerardo, a chance encounter that sparks something neither of them can ignore. So tender is the resulting romance that its root in reality will come as no surprise.

Iván looks out across a balcony, troubled.
Armando Espitia as Iván. Photo courtesy of Sony Picture Classics.

Helming this film is critically acclaimed documentarian Heidi Ewing, director of the 2006 Oscar nominated Jesus Camp. Having begun as a documentary portrait of real life Iván and Gerardo, the construction of this film radically changed when Ewing decided to cast actors as the younger versions of her subjects. Innovative and unwavering, this film commits to neither genre, electing for a blend of narrative and documentary. Though Ewing plays with chronology and form, this film’s roots in reality never tremble: Iván and Gerardo are so utterly tangible that their every struggle aches.

A teacher and a property owner, Gerardo is more secure in himself and embraces the risks of their relationship for any chance to hold Iván close. But desperate to maintain his secret and keep his sexuality separate from the rest of his life, Iván makes every attempt to keep Gerardo at arms length. The obstacles they endure are immense, bathed in frustration and childhood pain—but the sparks that flew on that first night in the club continue to envelop them in warmth. Giving vibrant and visceral performances, Espitia and Vasquez manage an intimacy so genuine it pierces the heart. The film’s tender visual aesthetic brims with hope for their future that even endures the gut-punch of their setbacks.

Following their love across the border, the film provides a candid look at some of the pain endured by America’s undocumented immigrants. As Iván puts it, “when you dream it happens so fast.” I Carry You With Me examines the way reality moves slowly. In slow motion, these men endure immensely. Working towards his better future, Iván is forced to make decisions with repercussions that become embedded in his life. From the intensity of a trek across the border to the quiet ache of separation, this film retains its intimacy, allowing painful vulnerability from its characters. As always, that tinge of blue remains: the future looms and the threat of what tomorrow brings interweaves with their unwavering hope.

Closeup of Gerardo, staring at Iván's lips.
Christian Vásquez as Gerardo. Photo courtesy of Sony Picture Classics.

Bold choices in the films third act make for a drastic tonal and aesthetic shift, despite obvious efforts to blend the change. As the story catches up with that of present day Iván and Gerardo, Ewing experiments with elements of narrative and documentary filmmaking. This is where the film stumbles, transitioning between forms and, in a way, characters. Espitia’s Iván disappears into the man himself, disrupting the narrative and emotional arc of the character we’ve known thus far and asking the audience to expand their notions of truth. Though the difference is jarring, this effect comes second to the wave of emotions it elicits. Though the tangibility of its characters is a marvel and the tender romance between them undeniable, the bold plunge into two genres is this film’s crowning achievement. 

When it comes to the harsh realities of immigration, the pain is substantial. Refusing to shy away from that, this film opts for a blunt narrative, bittersweet and concrete. Abstraction was never an option for I Carry You With Me; an emotionally haunting and undeniably real experience was inevitable.

Dir: Heidi Ewing

Prod: Heidi Ewing, Mynette Louie, Gabriela Marie, Edher Campos

Cast: Armando Espitia, Christian Vásquez, Michelle Rodríguez, Arcelia Ramírez, Ángeles Cruz

I Carry You With Me is currently set for theatrical release on January 8, 2021.

Header image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics