Sunday, January 17, 2021

Mexico's I CARRY YOU WITH ME

 I lived in New York for 25 years. I hope to return one day. Something occurred to me while I was watching I CARRY YOU WITH ME, the tale of two gay men in Mexico who fall in love and, with great difficulty, eventually wind up in New York City. I had probably eaten many excellent restaurant meals prepared by a chef who has a life story similar to one of the men we follow in the film. This subtitled, Spanish-speaking drama is the first narrative film from director and co-writer Heidi Ewing. She's mostly done documentaries.

In flashbacks, we go to Puebla, Mexico in 1994. We're going back in the memory of Ivan, a Mexican chef on a Manhattan subway train. In Mexico, he's single and closeted. He has a little boy to whom he's devoted. He gives the mother money from his job as a restaurant dishwasher and janitor. Ivan would rather be cooking as he's a graduate of a culinary institute. We see him cook. He doesn't make mainstream Mexican food like we'd get in a franchise food joint here in the U.S. He uses cilantro instead of the overused parsley and adds pomegranate seeds in some dishes for extra flavor. Sandra, his longtime friend who knows the truth of him, takes him to a gay bar where he meets Gerardo. Gerardo is a teacher. He's more outgoing and confident than the shy Ivan. They engage in small talk that leads to their first kiss. The attraction is not just physical. 


 But they're in Mexico which has the stifling, humid air of machismo. Growing up to be a macho, heterosexual male there seems to be a law. Gay men cannot walk down the streets of Mexico and hold hands without the possibility of being bashed by straight men. If Ivan comes out to the mother of his son, she'll keep him from seeing his son. Gerardo's family isn't accepting of gay freedom either. How will the two young men have a relationship under all that oppression? One wants to cross over illegally into America where he feels that will be acceptance and the opportunity for him to get a better job enabling him to send more money to his son. To Ivan, New York is like the destination you reach after you've booked passage on the Underground Railroad. But there's a "You Can't Go Home Again" element to this touching story. We follow Ivan and Gerardo for 20 years. Ivan says "The American dream happens in slow motion." It's even slower if you're an immigrant. Soulful-eyed Armando Espitia plays Ivan. Christian Vazquez plays the handsome, sophisticated Gerardo. Both performances are very good.

There's a lot of flashbacks in I CARRY YOU WITH ME. After an hour, they get a tad confusing. I didn't know immediately if I was watching the childhood Ivan or Gerardo. The last half-hour, with the mates living and working in New York, has a more documentary feel that makes you wonder if a documentary on this subject would be stronger than the narrative film. However, that does not detract from the quality. Heidi Ewing has given us a moving and tender film, one that takes us out of the U.S.A. to show us that being gay in the 90s was not fabulous like an episode of WILL & GRACE for people of color outside of America, people who later blended into America.

Today, Ivan definitely would be considered an essential worker. We see how he was just another food delivery person in New York before he really got to utilize his culinary institute skills. His physical and emotional journey through life with Gerardo wasn't easy and he's heartbroken that he can't visit his relatives back in Mexico. But, as a gay man, he did find something better. Ivan says "...life gives us all a surprise."

I said "Wow. The things we do for love." I CARRY YOU WITH ME, from Sony Pictures, opens in New York City and Los Angeles during Pride Month on Friday, June 25th.


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