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They just can’t quit each other, but this is no Brokeback romance. I Carry You with Me (★★★★☆) tells a moving true story of two men loving each other fiercely and defiantly, ultimately risking it all on the prospect of creating a future together.
Iván (Armando Espitia), an aspiring chef from Mexico City, and Gerardo (Christian Vázquez), a grad student raised on a ranch in Chiapas, meet in 1994 at a gay dive bar in Puebla, talking through the night until morning bells chime at a nearby convent. They fall fast in love, but Iván, recently separated from the mother of his young son, is afraid to live openly. People will talk in this town, where the pair are verbally and physically harassed on the streets, and he worries that his ex, Paola (Michelle González), would use such gossip against him.
Add to that the stifling lack of job opportunities for the culinary school graduate, currently mopping floors and fixing toilets at a diner, and Iván feels trapped. He has a vision of his dream life, but he doesn’t see it happening in Mexico. As committed as he is to pursuing that dream, the film commits to peeling back, layer by layer, his motivations for embarking on the potentially deadly journey northward through the desert to cross the U.S. border.
Filmmaker Heidi Ewing, acclaimed for her non-fiction work, including the Oscar-nominated 2006 documentary short Jesus Camp, makes a confident narrative feature directing debut, fusing scripted with non-scripted storytelling for a uniquely rich portrait of the immigrant experience. For the most part, it’s a closeup portrait, rendered not in broad flourishes or wide landscapes, but in tight shots and tiny details. Ewing and cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramírez keep the camera hovering within a breath of the actors’ faces, exhaling with Iván, relieved and proud, after his first night cooking in a real restaurant kitchen, or absorbing Gerardo’s shocked stillness the night he sees Iván out with Paola and their son.
Espitia and Vázquez carry their closeups (and the story) beautifully, with Espitia in particular exhibiting a silent film actor’s facility at expressing Iván’s thoughts and feelings with barely a glance. He also pairs harmoniously with Michelle Rodríguez (not the Fast & Furious star), playing out the film’s other love story, between Iván and bestie Sandra, a lifelong friend who shares some of the same goals, if not the same ideas about how far she’ll go to pursue them.
Occasionally, the two fine leads hand off to young actors portraying the quite different circumstances of Iván and Gerardo’s childhoods. But the most compelling supporting players are the real-life Iván and Gerardo, who appear briefly throughout, before the film’s final act turns its focus to documenting where their journeys, both together and apart, eventually would lead them. Yet the end of the film is not the end of their story, which Ewing leaves open to pondering over what dreams the lovers will be forced to abandon in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
I Carry You with Me opens Friday, July 2 at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, Va., and on Friday, July 9 at the AMC Hoffman in Alexandria and the AMC Rio in Ashburn. Visit www.angelikafilmcenter.com or www.fandango.com.
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