Give Me Liberty

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 30, 2019

'Give Me Liberty'
'Give Me Liberty'  

Kirill Mikhanovsky dives into America's broad and diverse peoples — and the rifts that divide us — with his rambling, sometimes free-form movie "Give Me Liberty."

America seen as a microcosm is nothing new, but Mikhanovsky digs deeper rather than stretch his net as wide as possible. To that end he presents a small community of Eastern European emigres, at the center of which is the helpful, but constantly overwhelmed, medical van driver Vic (Chris Galust), whose stressful job is even more difficult thanks to the complications of his family life, including his aging grandfather.

When a group of mourners are left stranded by a van that never arrives to take them to the funeral of a fellow emigre, Vic is roped into transporting the whole crowd — including rambunctious boxer (and possible con man) Dima (Maxim Stoyanov), who claims to be the nephew of the deceased.

It's a tall order, and one that doesn't square well at all with Vic's schedule, which includes transporting ALS patient Tracy (Lauren 'Lolo' Spencer), a ferocious woman will to many responsibilities of her own. The film surfs atop crosscurrents of identity politics but avoids getting swamped by keeping the momentum going — for the first half of the film, anyway. That's when Mikhanovsky resorts to arthouse trickery, cutting back and forth between the current, over-wrought moment and past (or future) moments, quieter in tone and suffused with friendship and possibly, romance.

The film quivers on the edge of too much sometimes: Too much chaos, too many complications. Getting the mourners to the funeral is derailed by a long detour prompted by a massive protest against a police shooting; Tracy's growing anger is spurred by her wheelchair's temperamental meteor, which conks out at inconvenient times. When a fractious funeral oratory is interrupted by a sudden twist that throws everything into the air, you surrender and go along for the wild ride.

But Mikhanovsky also revels in quieter moments and subtler gags, as when the mourners, returning to the apartment building where Vic and his grandfather may be facing eviction after a cooking incident, cast about for a place to conduct a wake. Dimi flexes his gifts as con man and seducer as he breaks down the icy reluctance of a building security guard in order to gain access to the dead woman apartment; he uses that same charm on Tracy, and, later, on Vic's sister, Sasha (Darya Ekamasova). In another scene, a very different gathering takes place as a family sits around a dinner table, where Vic and his grandfather find themselves to be impromptu guests. First impressions fall away, and deeper connections are forged.

This is a film with many uncomfortable passages, and it has a way of telling us its truths with too little varnish. But its comforts have a rough-hewn charm, from a paper cone used to play a vinyl record to a suite of understated, naturalistic performances that keep us engaged even when the film stumbles.

When, toward the end, things truly get out of hand, and the film's direction becomes muddy and confusing, we've been amply primed to accept that there's no god's-eye narrative remove to which to retreat. We're stuck in this mess, the director seems to be telling us, and we're stuck together. As one character puts it, you live as best you can — and have faith that that will be enough.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.