I Carry You with Me

Directed by Heidi Ewing

Written by Heidi Ewing and Alan Page Arriaga

Starring Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez, Michelle Rodriguez, Ángeles Cruz

Heidi Ewing starts “I Carry You with Me,” focused on a rather interesting-looking man sitting on a New York subway. The setting is instantly recognizable, but the reason for the isolation isn’t as immediate until Ivân begins his voice-over. Ewing and cinematographer, Juan Pablo Ramirez, pulled back to the train window, a reflection of Ivân’s younger self, and coupled with the voice-over, we get a sense that this story will be both reflexive and reminiscent.

“I Carry You with Me” is a love story. Set in Mexico, the young Ivân is trying to find his way in the world. Carrying the theme of keeping your home and family in your heart, a play on the “carrying you with me” theme, we are sent back in time to the mid to late 1980s. Ivân is a family man with a son, whom he’s carrying on his shoulder. Ivân feels isolated, and Ewing correctly juxtaposes his situation without saying much of anything.

That’s the beauty of “I Carry You with Me” – it is a visual feast for the eyes. Even in the drab settings of a small, cramped apartment that Ivân’s ex-wife occupies with her family, we see and sense some hope for the future in the images. The isolation never feels confining.

Yet, with Ivân, we feel like something more is coming his way.

Ivân (Armando Espitia) is an aspiring chef and has apprenticed at the best schools in Mexico, yet he can’t get a break. He’s working odd jobs to keep himself afloat, and his family is cared for when he meets Gerardo (Christian Vâzquez), a school teacher. Their first interaction is not ostentatious; it is tender, moving, and a good solid start to a relationship.

Ewing layers the story with visits to their childhoods, building on their emotional states, helping to convey why they are the people they are. You are never jolted in to or out of the “present;” it is a natural feel when we shift.

Ivân’s journey, though, is not complete if we’re still in Mexico. And it is here where Ewing focuses on present-day concerns – the immigration issue, how we treat immigrants, and a general malady of feelings is awakened.

“I Carry You with Me” eventually deposits us back into modern-day New York, where Ivân struggles to find his place in the world, added to by the pressures of having to hide in fear of being deported back. Ivân is a scrappy character, and he finds his way right back into Gerardo’s heart. In the present day that Ivân is left to communicate with his son, to tell him why he never returned to Mexico. That was difficult to bear in watching the film, but it made the experience so much more satisfying.

The film is based on a true love story, so the first half of the film plays out like a traditional drama, with layers of biographical storytelling. In contrast, the modern-day experiences felt a bit too autobiographical, considering that Ivân and Gerardo are still alive.

Nevertheless, “I Carry You with Me” feels like a fresh LGBTQ story that is not so much in your face with its politics that you’ll turn away from it. The innovative film won both the NEXT Innovator and Audience Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and deservedly so.

“I Carry You with Me” is now in theaters.

R, 111 minutes, Sony Pictures Classics