MACAO – Sometimes it’s hard for a society to know who it is. What are our core values? How do we keep them when so many problems and fears require short term solutions? Well, you can write them down, in a constitution, and if paper is too temporary, you can carve them in stone and put them under a statue at your major port of entry. Call it the Statue of Liberty. This is where Kirill Mikhanovsky’s new film got its title, Give me Liberty, and it stands as a searing reminder of what the USA ought to stand for and how far it has fallen. It’s also as funny as hell.
Medical van driver, Vic (Chris Galust), must transport his charges through Milwaukee in the middle of winter, while at the same time trying to help out his grandfather and a group of Russian mourners who want to go to an old friend’s funeral. The deceased woman’s nephew – a holy buffoon of a boxer called Dimitri (Max Stoianov) – who supplies some good-hearted anarchic energy to the trip. Tensions rise as Vic is constantly ‘just ten minutes’ away, exasperating his boss on the radio as well as another wheelchair bound client, Tracy (Lauren Spencer), who needs the service to help her get to an appointment for a man she is helping. To make matters worse, there has been a shooting in the neighborhood and demonstrations against the police are in full swing, blocking roads and raising the stakes.
There’s a febrile tension to the film that gives it the immediacy of a thriller, but director and fellow screenwriter Alice Austen never lose sight of the humanity, much of which comes out in the comedy. Of course, the politics is on its sleeve and in the title, but this is no piece of monotone diatribe. Rather it is a furious and heartfelt of socially conscious entertainment, reminiscent of early John Sayles and Paul Schrader. The acting from the largely non-professional ensemble is note perfect. Galust gives us Vic as a genuinely good man who stoically refuses to give up. But it is Lauren Spencer whose fire lights the film up and ought to be on everyone’s watch list.
He has the energy and the looks of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Stoianov balances his character’s obvious dodginess with a lionhearted compassion and humour. But Lauren Spencer is a real star. The film also has a chorus of types in the shape of James Watson as a bedridden quadriplegic who Vic tends to as his patient dispenses wisdom. ‘Life is beautiful,’ he insists, ‘Life is wonderful’. And though there are many reasons to criticize the society we live in today Give Me Liberty is proof that there are still many people who uphold the values of solidarity, love and compassion with good humour and energy.
Viewed at the 4th International Macao Film Festival and Awards. The festival runs from the 5th to the 10th of December 2019.
- Take a look at Give me Liberty’s official trailer