Credit: NYFF
by Steven Warner Featured Film Horizon Line

I Carry You With Me | Heidi Ewing

June 21, 2021

I Carry You With Me is an unpleasant mix of manipulative pap and trivialized stakes, and it’s done no favors by its docu-fiction structure.

I Carry You With Me, the debut narrative feature from renowned documentary filmmaker Heidi Ewing (The Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp) is a well-intentioned misfire, the type of film that could only come from a place of love and respect. In attempting to tell the decades-spanning, true-life love story between two of her closest friends, Ewing seems to opt for cliché over authenticity, which is odd considering both the filmmaker’s background and her decision to integrate real-life footage of the couple into the narrative itself. One would have to be a heartless monster not to feel some sort of empathy for the central couple, Iván and Gerardo, and the trials and tribulations they endure as a result of their sexuality and desire for a better life. The problem is that Ewing presents their story in the most banal way possible, rushing through each major life event to the point that the viewer simply finds it impossible to emotionally invest in the proceedings. The grand love story that is supposed to be the film’s beating heart amounts to only a handful of scenes that feel like discards from Andrew Haigh’s far superior Weekend. It doesn’t help that Armando Espitia and Christian Vázquez, the two actors playing Iván and Gerardo as their younger selves, exhibit nothing in the way of chemistry, or that their troubled pasts, as presented here, are boiled down to Daddy Issues. Such simplifying does a great disservice to the real-life men for whom this film purports to be a love letter, as does presenting their attempts at illegally crossing the border into America as action movie chase scenes — all helicopter spotlights, secret tunnels, and narrow escapes. That Ewing admits to manipulating certain facts for dramatic purposes is troubling, to say the least, in that she opts for cliché in every single instance. 

Once the story finally catches up to the near-present, Ewing decides to go full documentary, which is problematic for a number of reasons, the biggest being that the sudden introduction of authenticity clashes with the Hollywood bullshit we’ve been spoon-fed for the past 80 minutes. One could argue that, by cutting to the actual participants, Ewing is putting a real-life face on the countless stories of discrimination and hate that have flooded news channels over the past few decades, the types of tales that filmmakers are keen to make into Oscar-bait candyfloss and which trivialize the real humans behind the industry gloss — you know, like the first two-thirds of this film. Ewing wants to have her cake and eat it, too, but all she succeeds in doing is, ironically, completely disconnecting the viewer from the story at hand. Since so little time is spent with the two real-life men in their later years — 20 minutes, max — the impression is one of encountering strangers. If the director had opted for actors instead, the effect would be the same, so what we have here is a gimmick, which feels especially manipulative when considering these men, who have had to endure so much hate over the course of their lives simply for living as their authentic selves. It also trivializes the despicable immigration laws that Ewing is attempting to criticize, those that desperately try to destroy love and familial bonds in the name of American justice. Individuals like Iván and Gerardo deserve to have their stories told — and friends who won’t reduce them to stereotypes, no matter how well-intentioned.

Originally published as part of NYFF 2020 — Dispatch 5.