My father complains bitterly about movie flashbacks (he also hates comedies, but that’s a story for another day). I used to scoff at his prejudice — even cruelly enjoying his annoyance when a film we were watching slipped into the past tense — but the older I get the more I find myself sharing his disdain for this overused and inelegant narrative device.
Of course, there’s the even more baffling flashback within a flashback, recently encountered by yours truly during an episode of Netflix’s Lupin that required my spouse’s urgent explanatory intervention. And now there’s this week’s film, Te Llevo Conmigo (I Carry You with Me), a flashback-strewn drama currently screening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas.
Beginning in present day New York City, where we glimpse middle-aged protagonist Iván (Armando Espitia) on a subway train, the film hurriedly transports us back in time 15 years to rural Mexico, where we glimpse his humble beginnings. Iván dreams of becoming a chef but is currently washing dishes; his yearning for handsome teaching assistant Gerardo (Christian Vazquez — the actor, not the Boston Red Sox catcher) is something that must be hidden from his deeply conservative family.
Though Gerardo already has a boyfriend (Luis Alberti), the attraction is mutual and he and Iván soon become an item. And then, the unthinkable: Writer-director Heidi Ewing takes us further down the time tunnel to explore each character’s childhood; we learn that Gerardo’s father was a cruel homophobe and Iván’s best friend Sandra (Alexia Morales) helped pre-teen Iván apply makeup and put on his sister’s quinceañera dress.
There have been lots of films about gays and lesbians struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, but I Carry You with Me isn’t content to stick to the genre’s established tropes. Midway through her film, director Heidi Ewing throws viewers a narrative curveball: After revealing his sexuality to his distraught relatives, Iván decides to leave for the United States and takes Sandra with him. Gerardo, meanwhile, isn’t convinced the illusive American Dream is in reach and decides to stay in Mexico.
In light of the film’s aforementioned foreshadowing, this plot twist shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it allows Ewing (whose excellent documentary Jesus Camp was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007) to add welcome new levels of drama and intrigue to the story. Will the out-of-shape Sandra make it to the border? Will she and Iván evade the Border Patrol? Will Gerardo eventually change his mind and join them in America — and, most importantly, will the flashbacks ever stop? You’ll have to buy a ticket to find out (though — SPOILER ALERT — the flashbacks never stop).
There’s a deeply personal story behind I Carry You with Me, which is as much an inspirational tale of personal sacrifice and determination as it is a tale of gay liberation. At heart an all-American story of up-by-the-bootstraps grit and fortitude, it’s tethering to real life ultimately provides something more satisfying than worn-out Horatio Alger platitudes.