The force of memory and desire haunts ‘I Carry You With Me’

I Carry You With Me relies on inserts: of food, hands, rueful expressions. Combine this strategy with the handheld camera and what emerges is a film that aspires to the verisimilitude of a documentary but lit flashes of the fictive as if by lightning. Base on the story of Iván Garcia and Gerardo Zabaleta, this film by Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp) follows the romantic travails of a couple who realize they found each other too late. Animating it is a flashback structure that deepens the poignance.

This is not one of these films that creates a work/love binary. A busser in Puebla, Mexico, Iván (a terrific Armando Espitia) harbors dreams of being a chef; the audience knows he eventually does. He’s not crazy about his mother. He has a son. Visiting a gay bar during a rare moment of self-confidence he meets Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), an adjunct at a local school. Iván is in effect still closeted, a reality in the Mexico of 1994. “I know how to pass,” says Iván. “You’re obviously really good at it,” Gerardo answers, with a hint of envy; in a flashback shown later, his father belted him after learning the truth (worse, he leaves him in a cornfield to find his way home). They have the rapport of lovers who will become friends. It could be a conversation the audience happens to overhear, thanks to Ewing’s use of a handheld camera.

Despite their rapport, Iván remains committed to his dream. Ewing abets him with closeups of mole. This is a film, thankfully, in which vocation and avocation meld. I Carry You With Me does wobble when the landscape shifts to New York City and Ewing interweaves footage of the real Ivan and Gerardo: a laudable but futile decision. By relying on the affective fallacy she loses confidence in her own story. Another banal touch: the use of kaleidoscope-esque effects to reflect the tumult in Ivan.

Not a major work, I Carry You With Me is the kind of small film whose precisely calibrated details inspire affection; it’s the sort of thing that haunts the memory in flashes, like those kaleidoscope effects are supposed to. To argue that Ewing hasn’t made the film she wanted is pointless; she has come up with a series of shards, alternately blunted and jagged. “You are my dream, but you arrived a little too soon,” the audience learns in voice-over. I Carry You With Me understands how desire depends on — is strengthened by — memory.

GRADE: B+

I Carry You With Me is playing at O Cinema.

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