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Russian-born Kirill Mikhanovsky’s “Give Me Liberty” provides a new lens for the viewer to look through in this “slice of life,” low-key comedy/drama that follows medical transport driver Vic (Chris Galust) throughout a day of twists and turns, violence and love.
The film begins as Vic’s day begins. Waking up early in the morning, he helps his Russian grandfather get ready for the day, then rushes to help others in his apartment complex get ready before jumping in his van, used to bus people with disabilities around Milwaukee.
This is a film with many layers and not one you can watch while thinking about other things. It calls for your attention and focus. Letting your mind wander even for a minute may cause you to miss a subtle joke, a look between two people, an important story or a deep undertone message.
What is especially alluring about the film is its inclusion of characters from all different backgrounds who face challenges that are not often showcased in the average blockbuster film. Along with African-Americans and Russian-Americans, “Give Me Liberty” shines the spotlight on individuals with disabilities, portraying them with dignity and respect.
The film also calls attention to migrant families, the dynamic between one generation and another and the expectations parents have of their children. It does this through the eyes of Vic, a Russian-American, who ends up driving a group of rowdy elderly Russians, including his grandfather and a Russian boxer, to a funeral. There are also moments between Vic and his mother that are both humorous and relatable to anyone who has had to deal with eccentric personalities in their family.
All of this is tied in with a near robbery, a protest, a drunken funeral party and a slow and steady unfolding romance between Vic and Tracy (Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer), a headstrong, yet endearing young black woman with ALS and a passenger on Vic’s van.
At first, the love story between these two characters is somewhat unexpected based on the overall tone of the film and its tendency to jump quickly from one scene to another, leaving the viewer trying to figure out how all the pieces fit. Yet somehow, it all works together, conveying the chaos of life, the ups and downs and that, ultimately, we are all people and worthy of love.
For Vic and Tracy, their love connection is solidified and blooms in a quiet scene in which Vic retreats withy Tracy into her room after having dinner with her family. A collector of vinyl records, Vic shows Tracy how to make a record player with a needle, a pencil and a rolled-up piece of paper. Perhaps intentionally, the quietness of this moment seems to speak louder than the chaotic and loud scenes that precede it.
While “Give Me Liberty” begins in what feels like a quick pace – enough to match the speed of Vic’s somewhat rampant driving – it seems to slow down as the plot develops and thickens. And the comedic aspect of the film is equally balanced by the sometimes dark, dramatic tone it also carries.
Along with all of this, there is a very artistic aspect to the way the film was shot, with some scenes in black and white and others that have a shaky and unstable or dream-like quality to them. These moments set the tone of each scene, as if it were a signal to the audience as to how to feel during that particular moment.
“Give Me Liberty” screens at the Fountain Theatre, Friday, Oct. 4 through Wednesday, Oct. 9. For information call 575-524-8287 or visit mesillavalleyfilm.org.
Alexia Severson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.