“GIVE ME LIBERTY”— Driving Around Milwaukee


Driving Around Milwaukee

Amos Lassen

An aimless twenty-something named Vic (Chris Galust), works driving a medical transport van in Milwaukee. Every time Vic has to make a stop, it becomes a massive production, usually elongated by the too-free-spirited middle-aged man named Dima (Maksim Stoyanov). Family members are sincerely played like children who always have one problem to address. In “Give Me Liberty,” driving around Milwaukee becomes quite a task for Vic.

Director Kirill Mikhanovsky creates many odd, vivid details, playing with how he defines his characters within the stressful nature of his comedy. The finest example is Vic’s mother, introduced later in the movie. She has to play piano for a recital that night taking place in her apartment. Scenes later, a Steinway is in her one-bedroom, with a full audience seated. Why? How? As a flourish of chaos, especially for a movie where there is no space from family, it’s just one of Mikhanovsky’s many animated choices.

Mikhanovsky directs this movie as if this were his one and only shot to say his peace, which gives it a massive, undoubtedly passionate quality. He loves his many characters and their family spaces. There’s a warmth in the rambling movie’s monologues, like with a bedridden man who speaks clearly to Vic (and the viewer) in bookending speeches about love and those around you making the movie sound preachy. By the end of the “Give Me Liberty,” the words are contextualized from someone who is incredibly sincere, sharing every part of his soul with us.

This is a  kinetic, comedic journey taking place over a day that is potent in its exploration of shared cross-cultural experiences. Vic  takes care of his senile grandfather, who has a hazardous obsession with cooking chicken. On this particular day, not only does he need to get him out the door for his aunt’s funeral, but he also needs to make his regular stops to pick up his clients. To make matters more difficult, his many relatives (all living in the same apartment building) need a ride to the funeral. And to make matters even more complicated, there’s a protest against police brutality after a cop killed someone in the predominantly African American neighborhood that Vic must navigate through en route to his many destinations.

Along the way, he careens through streets as his relative spill their pills and smear lipstick. They sing the spiritual songs of Paul Robeson while one of his clients, a disabled woman, sings Elvis Presley’s Rock Around The Clock, blending into a cacophony of noise. Mikhanovsky often plays their obstacles for amusement, laughing along with the characters. There’s a jar-opening gag that would make Larry David proud and when our group (spoilers!) finally do arrive at the funeral, a bit of amusing confusion comes into play.

The film was directed with a kind of immediacy and naturalism with an added level of cultural specificity into this insular Russian community.

The film opens on August 30 in Los Angeles and on August 23 in NYC.

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