A sure sign of a film’s impact is finding oneself thinking back to scenes, moments or certain lines of dialogue long after seeing it. Such is the case with Kirill Mikhanovsky’s directorial debut Give Me Liberty, a chaotic, cluttered slice of life drama about the son of Russian immigrants who gets by as a transport driver for Milwaukee’s disabled community. In a film that quite literally could induce motion sickness, one of the quieter scenes lingers after the credits roll. It happens after Vic (Chris Galust) has joined one of his clients, Tracy (Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer), and her family for dinner; the two retreat to her room and Vic, who has an affinity for vinyl records, teaches Tracy how to cobble together a makeshift record player with a needle, a pencil and a rolled up piece of paper.
It might be the tonal shift of the scene, a departure from the breakneck speed Mikhanovsky keeps up elsewhere, that makes it so memorable. But it’s more than that, too; it’s the sweetness of it, the quiet connection these two, who couldn’t be more different if they tried, share over something as universal as music. It speaks to the heart of Give Me Liberty, a film so frenetic (and often so funny) it’s easy to forget there’s an emotional core to it at all. But it’s there, and it’s what elevates an otherwise rocky first feature to something notable.
Vic’s day starts before dawn; it’s the middle of a Milwaukee winter, and he’s got to get to his first pick-up arranged by dispatch at the transport company. But first he has to make sure his elderly grandfather is up and ready, dressed and fed and on time to meet the friends heading to a funeral for a fellow resident in the apartment building where they all live. Already the chaos both in Vic’s day and cinematographer Wyatt Garfield’s (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Diane) camera work is intense, and we’ve only just begun. As the day goes on, everything goes further and further off track, from pick-up times missed by hours to detours to that funeral and Vic’s mom’s house and more. Colorful characters get on and off Vic’s accessible shuttle only to find themselves in for quite a ride. Between the non-stop camera work and Mikhanovsky’s own unrelenting editing, a sense of vertigo pervades the whole affair.
If you can stomach it, what’s behind all the chaos is a timely and thoughtful observation on life for those on the margins. Whether there through a language barrier, a disability, economic strife or other circumstances, Give Me Liberty gives each of its subjects, from the non-verbal Steve who’s charm jumps off the screen to the fast-talking Dima (Maxim Stoyanov) who delivers the film’s best performance, a chance to shine. In his first foray into filmmaking, Mikhanovsky exhibits a strong sense for personal connection and certainly plenty of ambition in his style. If Give Me Liberty proves successful and affords him an opportunity to do more behind the camera, his is a professional evolution worth keeping an eye on.