Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | December 20th, 2020
Give Me Liberty (Kirill Mikhanovsky, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
A simultaneously gentle and manic comedy, Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Give Me Liberty follows a day in the life of Vic, a Russian-American paratransit driver in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as he struggles to meet the demands of his job and his family, almost losing the former while also alienating the latter. It’s a tough life, blessed though it may be with moments of gratitude from those he serves. On this particular day, however, his passengers are less than thankful for him, given how when one tries to please everybody the usual result is dissatisfaction for all. Still, he’s a sweet-enough guy, crazed though he may be, and that loving heart serves him mostly well, in the end. Along the way, there are adventures and misadventures to be had.
Chris Galust, as Vic, is joined by a large, capable ensemble of players that includes Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer and Maxim Stoyanov. Spencer plays Tracy, a regular on the route who is less than thrilled to have not only her pickup delayed, but her ride slowed down, as well, given that Vic has decided to drive a bevy of elderly residents from his apartment complex, including his grandfather, to the funeral of the recently departed Lilya. Stoyanov plays Dima, a mysterious good-time Charlie who shows up claiming to be Lilya’s nephew, hopping on the van, too, and thereafter making a move on every woman he meets (and eating all he can find). Galust’s Vic is both hapless and helpless as we watches events spiral out of control, his boss constantly calling him to get the van back.
Throughout, we meet a cast of colorful characters that include a racially and ethnically diverse group of working-class folks, people with disabilities and senior citizens, showcasing their individuality, three-dimensionality and fully realized lives. Even at the end, when anti-police protests lead to clashes between Black and white (filmed, interestingly in actual black and white, despite the color cinematography used elsewhere), Mikhanovsky (Dubrovsky) remains interested in highlighting that which brings us all together (while nevertheless supporting the marchers). Give Me Liberty is a paean to the glorious human condition, in all its joy and misery.
Speaking of how the film is shot, there is sometimes almost too much frenetic energy, both the humor and pace pushed beyond its appeal. It’s when the director takes time to slow things down that his story truly comes alive (though the fast driving of the van still impresses). There is liberty in speed, for sure, but also in the embrace of small, quiet moments. May such freedom be ours for the taking, always.
[Starting on December 20, Give Me Liberty streams on MUBI USA for 30 days.]