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Give Me Liberty

Give Me Liberty

[…] A shoe-string budget piece, Mikhanovsky´s second full-length feature demonstrates the advantages of using amateur players that bring an air of naturalness to the screen and how healthy it can be to make cinema without contributing to the increase of stars´ swimming pools…

[…] Mikhanovsky´s indulgent and chaotic glimpse of the low-income citizen´s world betrays a bit of humanistic conservatism, led by a naive hopefulness akin to Rose Neorealism and Golden Age Mexican melodrama.

Russian-born (but settled in America) director Kirill Mikhanovsky´s Give Me Liberty is in certain ways a soft Dogma-like movie who aspires to have the qualities of mainstream products and the depths of auteur cinema. One half of this carnivalesque road movie takes place in a wheelchair accessible transport vehicle driven by Vic, a young Russian Good Samaritan rooted in the USA whose job is to pick up handicapped persons and take them where they need to go. Moved by the nationalistic call of a group of Russian Jewish elders that ask him to bring them to the burial of a friend, he adds the Slavic cargo to the few passengers that he is carrying and begins to do his best to try to both accomplish his duty as employee and help the mourners give the last goodbye to their comrade. In so doing, kind-hearted Vic transforms his car into an interethnic ship of fools, an out-of-time tribe where extravagances and absurdities occur. Such a tribe is headed by Dima, a character that overshadows all his companions, a Rabelaisian buffoon with the stamina of a porn star, impelled by an unquenchable hunger for food and sex. The action takes place in Milwaukee, a city with the negative reputation of being the most segregated of the States.

There was a time when independent American cinema seemed to be far from commercial film industry. Nowadays, a good number of indie pictures are variations on mainstream, scores with monotonous notes about practically nothing fresh. A shoe-string budget piece, Mikhanovsky´s second full-length feature demonstrates the advantages of using amateur players that bring an air of naturalness to the screen and how healthy it can be to make cinema without contributing to the increase of stars´ swimming pools; and (more importantly) to adopt an asymmetric style without an eye on the box-office. The freedom that this kind of poverty allows is not always applied to creating a daring work however. Mikhanovsky´s indulgent and chaotic glimpse of the low-income citizen´s world betrays a bit of humanistic conservatism, led by a naive hopefulness akin to Rose Neorealism and Golden Age Mexican melodrama.

Flirting with absurdities and slapstick, Mikhanovsky provides some jewels of humour: the troupe of aged Russians singing Go Down, Moses, the farewell ceremony before the wrong grave, the seduction by Dima of the obese black woman that keeps the key of the flat of the deceased, the aftermath of the funeral party with the dead woman’s apartment filled by sleeping drunkards… Give Me Liberty is at its peak when we see behind the comedy the tragic destiny of those members of Russian community whose life «is in shards», as Vic´s mother says in a revealing scene that shows the spiritual loss suffered by her family of musicians. Her commitment to rehearsing a recital at home in front of a small audience is eloquent proof of how people uprooted from their cultural environment struggle to keep their feeling for art alive. The film is no less appealing when the story is punctuated by disquieting insertions of shots of people with disabilities from the Eisenhower Center, or fragments of a conversation about love and life between Vic and a handicapped black man in bed. 

Seeking to catch too many fish in his net, Mikhanovsky lacks direction and forces the movie to roll in zigzags. The consequences of serving many masters becomes apparent by some twists of intention, such as when the script cannot avoid the boy-meets-girl tradition and forgets its “unconventional picaresque” pretentions. As more and more colours are included the picture cannot hold its centre, drawn by repetitions and cheap pedagogy.

What some enthusiastic American reviewers hailed as «bold» and «experimental» is a misuse of a figure of style coined by Lars von Trier & Co. that Mikhanovsky squanders without pause or malice. His Parkinsonian editing lacks the irony and contempt of the Dogma 95´s commandments. When its narrative is in such a hurry, the film becomes a reportage and show less than meets the eye. This rootless sort of imposed velocity, sportive and formulaic, is an easy, false “avant-garde” way to progress, as if gymnastic jump-cutting can make us forget the immobility of people in wheelchairs. Not to mention the saccharine music. Anything new under Sundance?

 

First published: October 19, 2019

Give Me Liberty | Film | Kirill Mikhanovsky | USA 2019 | 111’

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Screenings at Cinéma Spoutnik Genève 

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