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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2020 9:35 pm 
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HEIDI EWING: I CARRY YOU WITH ME/TE LLEVO COMINGO (2020) - virtual NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL

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ARMANDO ESPITIA AND CHRISTIAN VASQUEZ IN I CARRY YOU WITH ME

Gay immigration movie makes its points well

Working with Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing has made some fine documentary films. They've included Jesus Camp, The Boys of Baraka, the poetic Detropia, and a film about Norman Lear. This time, she has gone out on her own to produce a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, acted elements and a final segment featuring the real people the first part is about. They are good friends of hers, a gay Mexican couple who came to this country illegally, one of them to become a cook.

The very things that make this an interesting choice for the New York Film Festival's Main Slate also call its inclusion into question. First, it's about pressing issues today: homophobia, illegal immigration. Second, it's bold in choosing to mix actors playing people with the actual people. But as is often the case with issues not much treated in film or still pressing, the treatment is very conventional, and insistent. Ewing and her cowriter Alan Page hammer their theme ceaselessly. Try to find a moment that is not pushing the bullet points of the story. You won't find many. Second, the introduction of the real couple is jarring and inexplicable. Some will be puzzled, others will think this destroys the integrity of the movie.

This may have read to programmers as innovative, but it's not some artistically compelling treatment of minority gay experience like Barry Jenkins's astonishing Moonlight (NYFF 2016). These are two ordinary guys. They got punished - in one case severely - for being 'different.' They grow up and meet at a DIY gay bar. Iván (the appealing Armando Espitia) is brought there by his bgf Sondra (Michelle Rodríguez), with whom he later will make the very difficult illegal border crossing. He meets Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) across a crowded room, and somehow they know. . . They fall in love, but the Mexican environment isn't remotely gay-friendly. Iván has an ex-wife and a kid. When she realizes he has a boyfriend, she doesn't want to let him see little Ricky anymore. All this is turbulent, intense, sometimes lyrical. Sometimes it's pumped up melodrama, except that its trajectory, though real enough, and containing all the elements of a conventional hit, is standard issue.

Iván has gone to cooking school - one of several big steps in this chock-full epic that are skipped over here - but here in La Puebla, he can't get a decent job, and wants to go to America. Gerardo has a good job as a teacher and sees the crossover as nothing but danger and loneliness. After a painful crossing over for Iván aggravated by Sondra's physical difficulties with the trek (where perhaps Ewing's documentary experience helps), we get a quick run-through of some of Iván's numerous jobs on the way to something decent. After Iván has left, with the men vowing to reunite in a year, nothing happens for a while.

Gerardo is in touch, but Iván is moving so slowly he resorts to pretending to Gerardo that he's become a cook. He's really washing cars, then, after many steps, doing dishes. His fortunes finally turn - in a realistic scene of an authentically toxic, macho restaurant kitchen - when a raging chef abusively and impulsively fires a line chef. It's Iván's chance say "I can help. . . I went to cooking school," and get the classic big break.

Like that sequence, a lot of this is vivid, but also, when you think about it, generic. The element of manipulation is transparent at times. For instance when it's time for Gerardo to get motivated to come to the US on his own - Gerardo, who happens to have an effeminate, obviously gay best friend he's always out with, gets badly beaten up along with the friend. Then he's ready. Iván can't ever come back, and doesn't see his son Ricky other than on his smart phone for 20 years; this is where the actor Paco Luna is briefly fit in, on a smart phone, as the grown-up Ricky.

Ewing and her editor Enat Sidi are skillful at weaving in earlier moments illustrating the various elements that make these guys who they are and what they're motivated to do. The dp Juan Pablo Ramírez is certainly fully committed. The preponderance of sudden closeups, the shaky-cam that becomes markedly wobblier at emotional or dangerous moments, are visual elements that are obtrusive in the extreme and make lurid action even more so.

There is a cute little scene between the couple living together after Gerardo has gotten to New York, working on their English vocabulary. "How do you spell championes" (mushrooms) - No! I mean the English word!" It's a rare moment that fits the characters without serving a specific agenda.

Though we "meet" the "real" Iván and Gerardo for a while (not looking much like the actors who have played them), perhaps naturally, if they're still illegal, we don't really learn what their real names are or the details of what they do, though it's mentioned that in his several decades Iván has built up to where he's not only a chef, but owns businesses, plural. This was, to me, doubly jarring: the central roles suddenly assumed by non-actors, and the realization that we're not going to get full details of their story, after all.

I Carry You With Me is a touching tale pushing all the buttons and including a radical fourth-wall breakdown toward the end. It depicts important issues of homophobia and illegal immigration. But given the conventionality of the story, whether these elements justify the film's inclusion in the Main Slate of this year's (virtual + drive-in) New York Film Festival is another matter.

I Carry You With Me/Te llevo conmigo 111 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, also scheduled for Athens, Zurich, The Hamptons, and Mill Valley, in addition to the virtual 2020 New York Film Festival, as part of which it was screened for this review. Metascore: 68%. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Interview in Spanish with Armando Espitia.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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