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Thread: GIVE ME LIBERTY (Kirill Mikhanovsky 2019)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    GIVE ME LIBERTY (Kirill Mikhanovsky 2019)



    A chaotic, life-affirming ride across Milwaukee in winter

    Kirill Mikhanovsky's turbulent, life-affirming film makes its point of view clear with its early focus on a quadriplegic man lying in bed being fed a cigarette by Vic (Chris Galust), who drives a van for disabled people in Milwaukee in the wintertime. This handsome African American gentleman cannot walk. He can't smoke a cigarette. But he can speak, in a soft, mellifluous voice in which he affirms the preciousness and beauty of life. Vic is there to help him. Most of the action revolves around the van and those riding in it.

    Vic takes on too many tasks with the van, encountering a blocked off black neighborhood that reflects the city's segregated nature, and juggling the needs of a group of elderly Russian Jews he drives, against company rules, to a cemetery, with those of a more legitimate passenger, Tracy (Lauren 'Lolo' Spencer), a feisty young black woman with ALS.

    The film was made lovingly from scratch with non-actors in Milwaukee in real locations. It has won awards, was in Directors Fortnight at Cannes, and was reviewed enthusiastically upon its July 24 theatrical release in Paris. Its maker has called it "kind of a cross between Pulp Fiction and Little Miss Sunshine." A closer analogy is Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead. It bubbles over with enthusiasm and humanity. Its chaos is for the most part amiable, without being saccharine.

    Vic, at the center of the action of this film, is based on Mikhanovsky's own experience, though Galust is a handsome young Russian-American born in the US, an electrician who when found by a talent scout was buying a cake for his grandfather in a Brooklyn bakery. The director (who co-scripted with Alice Austen) is a Russian Jew who emigrated to America at 18, and was studying linguistics and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when he also worked as a van driver like Vic. It was the toughest job he ever had, he told a reporter for The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. It was winter, in Milwaukee, and he had to climb up a signpost at four a.m. and wipe off the sticky snow to find out where he was, with five clients with cerebral palsy waiting patiently in his van. No GPS back then.(He also worked as an interpreter for Russians applying for jobs.)

    Vic's mother (Zoya Makhlina) is a musician. We see her playing at an interrupted song recital by a soprano (Lindsey Willicombe). (What a knotty event that is!) His family has illustrious talents: why is he so tirelessly working this medial job? Well, he says, he has not yet decided what he wants to do in life.

    Mikhanovsky is a stickler for Milwaukee as part of the experience he reinvents in Give Me Liberty - and moreover, Milwaukee in winter. Vic lives with his addled grandfather who is obsessed with cooking chicken and resultingly is constantly creating smoke and chaos in the kitchen. Early on Vic gathers up an enormously fat man (who complains a lot and has just lost ninety pounds) and takes him somewhere in the van. Later, he breaks the rules of his company by picking up a group of elderly Russian Jews on their way to a cemetery to say goodbye to one of their own, and sing some lovely songs. They need a ride and Vic simply can't say no to them. This infuriates Tracy, the young woman with ALS, whom the elderly folks block from getting easily on and off the van. Vic's dispatcher is forever yelling at him over an intercom and he is constantly claiming to be five or ten minutes away from where he's supposed to be next. He gets fired. But then he gets rehired because he's needed. And actually, who can dislike him? It seems sometimes anything that can happen, or not happen, comes into the movie's overstuffed plot, so it winds up seeming both plotless and teeming with events. They include what seems to be an art center, an amateur show, and a disco for the mentally disabled.

    Also present on the van with the elderly Russians is a younger one, Dima (Maxim Stoyanov), a tattooed former would-be Russian boxer. Stoyanov's improv is often irritating (and have I said this film is too long?), but it works in a scene with a sullen black woman at a desk, a security guard refusing to give him a key. They connect over tattoos and unfaithful lovers, and a magical bond develops. That Mikhanovsky has time to develop such a relation, so far-fetched, yet so specific, may justify the existence of a movie as unwieldy as this.

    Milwaukee is said to be the most segregated city in the country. The elderly Russians consider the black section awful and dangerous. Vic drives through it and we see it rushing by. When he picks up a client, he must go into his or her home. And so, with the big old house where Tracy lives with miscellaneous family members, including her alcoholic mother (Sheryl Sims-Daniels), sitting around a big dinner table at one point, we encounter another rich sudden sui generis cross section of humanity. This specificity of Tracy's house is another justification of this movie, and we begin to see there are many. I also cannot forget the rather good looking big sofa Vic and Dima lug from Vic's house a long way along the streets to dump it, which later turns out to have been a hiding place for a cache of Vic's mother's savings. Where that goes I forget: Give Me Liberty is full of such engaging yet forgettable fausses pistes (red herrings, false trails, wrong tracks).

    I resist Give Me Liberty. I reject disorder. I also confess I balk at such unrestricted generosity. But this is an extraordinary film. The French trailer* will show you that. It has pull-quotes like "Deliciously unpredictable from one scene to the next" (NY Time,), "A film overflowing with love" (Les Inrockuptibles), "Overwhelming" (Indiewire). And the more I let it sink in, the more I see those statements are true. Dargis in the Times calls Mikhanovsky "a virtuoso of chaos," but it's his big heart that makes it all work.

    Give Me Liberty, 110 mins., debuted at Sundance, also showed in Directors Week at Cannes, BAMcinemaFest and at Munich between Jan. and June 2019. It opened in France July 24 and was widely praised by critics ([url=""]AlloCiné[/ufl] press rating 3.6 based on 21 reviews). French critics spoke glowingly of the film's "eccentricity," "tenderness," "humanity" and "love." The US theatrical release begins Aug. 23, 2019. (It will run at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5.) Its current Metascore is 80%.

    *French TRAILER
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-22-2019 at 10:37 PM.


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