When I watched the trailer for I Carry You With Me, I was anticipating a LGBTQ love story with two leads separated by distance, by the immigration of one to the United States. But what we actually receive is far more than that. It is the undocumented immigrant experience encapsulated into one man’s experience, including what happens to the family he must leave behind in Mexico and his experiences once he reaches the US. It is emotional, beautiful, and while the pacing can be uneven, the content is compelling and helps those of us who are born here with a richer insight into the reasons a person might cross the border.

I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo) is a Spanish language drama directed by Heidi Ewing, with the screenplay written by Ewing and Alan Page Arriaga. A blend of Iván and Gerardo’s story told through documentary footage and fictionalized drama, the film shares the narrative of a decades-long romance beginning in Mexico between aspiring chef Iván (Armando Espitia) and teacher Gerardo (Christian Vázquez). The pair meet in Puebla, Mexico but Iván has little money or prospects, all while trying to support his son Ricky. Even though he cares for Gerardo, those pressures cause him to embark on a treacherous journey to New York City with the hope of achieving his dream of becoming a chef. While Iván thinks his life with Gerardo is over, their lives together restart in incredible ways as they bring their hopes, dreams, and memories in tow with them.

One of the first aspects of this film that catches your attention is the story, the emotional impact. We are introduced to Iván reflecting back on his memories of Mexico, his son, and his job cleaning in a restaurant despite the fact that he has a degree from a culinary school. Even with his degree, he can’t get hired as a chef. He rarely goes out but one night his best friend Sandra (Michelle Rodriguez) takes him to a bar. There he meets Gerardo. They connect immediately. There is a vibrancy to the drama around their relationship, even as they learn about each other, about the other’s family, and as Iván’s mother and the mother of his son learn that he is in a relationship with a man. Even though he is not married to Ricky’s mother Paola (Michelle González), she still bans him from seeing his son when she learns the truth. The emotional ups and downs of their relationship fuel this story even when Iván decides to cross the border. He tells both his son and Gerardo he will return, even while conditions work against that promise. Gerardo struggles with the loss of Iván and his anger over the lack of legal options for immigrating. The film documents their lives together, their choices, and their romance is the central theme of the movie.

While the relationship between Gerardo and Iván is integral, it is both men’s other relationships, the individuals who they leave behind that matter as much. Even the title provides insight that even though they left Mexico, they haven’t left those memories or the love for their families. One of the risks of arriving undocumented in America is that if you leave, you cannot return. You don’t dare go home and risk never being able to return to the life you’ve built. The film does a stellar job of illustrating the issues of being undocumented, the lack of jobs, the lack of opportunities, and that there is no path for citizenship. Even trying to arrive legally is almost impossible even if you have a job that might be useful in the United States. The difficulties are well presented, including how harrowing the journey across truly is.

Part of what helps the film is the innovative use of documentary footage of the present-day Iván and Gerardo, their lives, their friends, and the community that they live in. The documentary footage includes phone calls with Iván’s son Ricky, his family, his inability to go home to visit his dying family, and what legal issues he would have if he attempted to leave. The footage shares Iván’s and Gerardo’s discussions of their options and what would happen to the businesses they own. Ultimately, the film and the footage do not pass judgment on their undocumented status, but provides an insight into the challenges and journey both men have taken to get to where they are and how they’ve built a life together.

What is thoroughly engaging is the balance between the drama and the documentary. Both the real men and the actors who play the younger versions of them. The cast is incredible, both Armando Espitia who plays Iván, and Christian Vázquez who plays Gerardo do well in their roles. Both men have genuine chemistry and the dynamic between them is both beautiful and believable as they laugh, love, and spend time on screen. The actors reflect the true relationship we see on the documentary footage, a relationship that is beautiful and dynamic, emotional and loving. Whether the real couple or the fictional younger pair, there is a real passion. The actors build rapport and hold the attention of the audience.

If there are any issues within the film itself, it is in the transitions between the documentary and the drama. There are moments when it is uneven and causes the pacing to fall apart. Once it centers on a particular time, then the story comes together. But even within the dramatic portion, there are more flashbacks to detail both men’s childhood’s and this causes the film to slow down. While it helps to understand them better, it can be disruptive to the flow of the story of them journeying to the United States. Despite these transitions and a surreal moment with Iván in the desert, the documentary footage is unusual, adds so much to the narrative, and the dramatic pieces are needed to understand the current life of both men.

If you like romances, beauty, or drama, you will love this story. It does require reading subtitles but for the film is time well worth spending. It provides insight into the struggles of being an immigrant, the loneliness, the challenges, even if undocumented and if you haven’t had those struggles in your life, it will provide much-needed empathy and an understanding of the complexities surrounding undocumented immigrants. It illustrates the need for change, the need for a path to citizenship and highlights a beautiful relationship between two men. I found it beautiful, evocative, emotional, and innovative.

I Carry You With Me opens exclusively in theaters Friday, July 2, 2021.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 memories.

Official Website: I Carry You With Me | Sony Pictures Classics
Facebook: @icywm
Twitter: @icywm

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