“Give Me Liberty”: Film Review

The Cannes Film Festival audience at Directors’ Fortnight was euphoric – applause rolled on and on over the end credits as the frenetic energy of a mad dash of a film gradually settled. 

Outside Théatre Croisette, hundreds were queueing, waiting to see the next film, one featuring a pesky seabird, and hoping to perhaps catch a glimpse of its stars, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.

But wonderful as that film turned out to be, it was “Give Me Liberty”, the story of a Russian-American medical van driver careering around Milwaukee in a desperate bid against time, that was the star of the day.

Made on a very low budget, after being dropped late in the day by distribution company A24 – which had reportedly seen it as their next “Moonlight” – the film’s raw energy is driven forward not only by the strength of its narrative but also by its sense of immediacy.  It is a film rooted in community life and direct experience, and made with a mostly non-professional cast.

Somewhere in a non-descript apartment block, Vic (Chris Galust) visits his friend – named here as The Confidant (James Watson). It’s a brief sliver of early morning calm.  Moments later the day turns into a furious race against time. Mishap after mishap derail Vic’s attempts to get on with his job ferrying disabled passengers. A chicken combusts, a funeral party finds itself stranded, a passenger boards the van with a samurai sword, and an exuberantly irrepressible interloper, Dima (Maxim Stoyanov), kicks the action repeatedly into ever more absurd farce.

It’s a winter day, a day which is spinning out of control and where people who’d normally never meet find themselves thrown in together, in a city which the film’s director, Kirill Mikhanovsky, has described as America’s most segregated. A new take on the American Dream takes shape – a portrait of harried lives, where nostalgia and a sense of loss about a past where life was perhaps better, takes on a sense of comical grandeur.

What is poignant turns out to be funny too, and throughout, there is heroic exertion. The young work hard to keep life going.  Vic, driving furiously around town, placating his impatient boss, telling him he is only ten minutes away, almost ‘there’, and Tracy (Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer), one of Vic’s passengers, a young woman with ALS who is her family’s rock, and is soon shouting at Vic – he is late, and he is making her late, and she has clients who depend on her, and by now the van is full of passengers who were never meant to be in the van in the first place, a whole bunch of Russian pensioners with plans of their own and a funeral to go to, and Dima the irepressible and unpredictable interloper who might be a bad person, or maybe good, who snaffles someone’s sweets, and ooops, that someone is diabetic… Dima turns out to be the catalyst for almost everything.

As the day progresses, things come to a head, and in a roundabout way, it turns out that maybe this story of a riotous journey is also a winter romance. A song is played – Bon Iver’s “Holocene”. The words float and slip into the story ‘And at once, I knew I was not magnificent’… and yet.  If “Give Me Liberty” seems to show the energy of youth bent on surviving the day rather than conquering it, there is still another dimension to this, as Vic’s confidant tells him, some time later: ‘Life, it is, what it is. When good things happens, you’ve got to grab it, that’s all you got, and try to keep it the best way you can’.

Director: Kirill Mikhanovsky
Screenplay: Alice Austen and Kirill Mikhanovsky
Cinematographer: Wyatt Garfield
Composer: Evgueni Galperine
Cast: Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, Chris Galust, Maxim Stoyanov, Darya Ekamasova

You can buy or listen to Bon Iver’s “Holocene” featured in the film here:



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