Kirill Mikhanovsky

7.3 Give Me Liberty

Kirill Mikhanovsky was born in Russia but moved with his family to the USA in 1993. He debuted with Fish Dreams (2006), set in a fishing village of Brazil.

The autobiographic Give Me Liberty (2019), co-written with playwright Alice Austen, is part screwball comedy and part realistic melodrama, a hybrid of Federico Fellini 's Amarcord, Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You, Martin Scorsese's After Hours, Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde, and Aki Kaurismaki's Ariel. It tells one chaotic breathless day in the life of a humble working man, son of immigrants, in a town torn by racial tensions, as he has to take care of a group of elderly, disabled and just eccentric people, including his own family.

At first we see Vic, a young white man, listening to an old black man who is lying in a bed, having lost his legs, and smoking a cigarette and discussing the meaning of life. Then we see Vic wake up his granpa: they are running late for the funeral of a Russian neighbor, Lilya. Left alone for a few minutes, granpa makes a mess in the kitchen and Vic shouts at him that he's not supposed to cook unsupervised. Vic then rushes to help another neighbor, a fat blind man who is sitting naked in his bed, waiting for help to get dressed. Vic is a van driver in the poor part of town. He drives to pick up Michelle, a mentally disabled woman who wants to participate in a talent show at a center for disabled people. On the elevator he meets Dima, who claims to be Lilya's nephew but is not really heartbroken when Vic tells him that she's been dead for two days and the funeral is that very day. Vic walks back to his apartment to find out that his granpa started a fire and there's smoke everywhere. As they walk downstairs they find a group of Lilya friends, all Russian immigrants, who are waiting for their van to take them to the funeral. Their van is late and they beg Vic to drive them to the cemetery. Vic reluctantly accepts even if it means running late on his own rides. His scheduler keeps calling and yelling at him. Vic drives fast to pick up a passenger but is stopped by the police: there are protests going on in town and he is forced to take a detour. Dima, also originally from Russia, sits in the front while granpa plays the accordion and the other Russians sing old songs. When Vic finally reaches the passenger, Tracy, she is furious: he is one hour late. She, a young black woman, has ALS and moves in a motorized wheelchair. The front door of her house is blocked by a mattress and Vic has to help her brother move the mattress. Then he makes her board on the back sit because he intends to drop off the Russians first, a fact that infuriates her even more. She calls Vic's boss to complain. Vic drives as fast as possible and ends up hitting a car. He stops and the black man who owns the car demands that he pays cash, not trusting that the van's insurance will pay him. This causes a further delay until Tracy starts yelling at the black man and Dima pushes him back. Vic drives away but has to stop again at the center where Michelle has to perform. While Michelle takes the stage and sings a rock'n'roll song, accompanied by granpa on accordion and by Dima dancing, others feed a diabetic with dog food because that's the only thing available in the vending machine. Tracy calls her boyfriend Brandon who, coincidentally, works there and tells him that she has a gift for his birthday, a sword, and that she's ready to move in with him. Brandon is clearly uncomfortable and finds an excuse not to take the gift, not the box with Tracy's personal belongings. Inside the center Vic is trying to gather the Russians who started mingling with the mentally disabled people, among whom is a painter (Vic has his bedroom decorated with those paintings). Meanwhile, a disabled friend of Tracy, Steve, has borded the van, and Tracy gave him the paperwork that he has to fill in order to file for a job. When the group can finally resume their trip (with Tracy ever more furious and Vic's boss ever more hysterical on the phone), Dima starts flirting with Tracy, telling her the tragic story of his life. They reach the cemetery and everybody disembarks and walks rapidly towards the workers who have already buried the coffin. Tracy's wheelchair gets stuck and Dima does not hesitate to carry her in his arms. The group is disappointed that their friend Lilya was buried without them but still sing a song. However, they soon find out that it is the wrong grave. They walk to the correct one and sing again. Tracy is now running two hours late but got used to the mess. After the funeral, the group returns to Vic's building. Dima wants to have a little party after the funeral in her aunt's apartment, but the black female security guard is truly obnoxious and refuses to open it. Dima nonetheless manages to seduce her. Even Tracy and the security guard join the party, and everybody gets drunk except for Vic. The story stops as we are taken back to the first scene, with the black man telling Vic stories of his own life, and how one has to see the positive side, not only the negative one. Vic takes Tracy and Steve to their destination and his boss tells him on the phone that the van will be reported stolen if he doesn't complete his ride within 20 minutes. We see a flashback (or flashforward?) of his boss angry at him but still giving him a second chance. Back at the apartment, Vic finds everybody asleep drunk, including the security guard, and Dima with a lot of money: he found it under the mattress of his aunt's bed and claims it as his own, as he is her sole heir. Vic's mom keeps calling him because she needs an urgent favor. Vic and Dima load granpa in the van and rush to her house. She asks them to take away a couch because she needs space for a recital: she is a pianist and is rehearsing with a fat opera singer. Vic's mom tells Dima how she saved money for her son, so he can study, but Vic doesn't want to study. Just then Vic's sister arrives. Sasha is a recent widow, five months pregnant. Nonetheless Dima immediately starts flirting with her. Vic forces him to help him carry (on foot) the couch to the dump. We see again the first scene, with the black man telling Vic that he has no ambition, talking like a father to a son. Vic leaves Dima at his mother's place and takes granpa to Tracy's place just to pay a social visit. Tracy's big family is having dinner and they are invited to join. When Tracy's brother Clayton wants to go out, Tracy yells at him: he is wasting his life trying to become a rapper while she pays the bills, and in any event there are protests in the neighborhood and it is dangerous to go out at that time of the evening. Nonetheless, her brother leaves with a friend. Tracy's mom cries remembering all the tragedies of her own life. Vic and Tracy play with records: he teaches her how to play a record without a turntable, simply by using a pencil as the needle and a paper funnel as the amplifier. Meanwhile Vic's granpa, who doesn't speak English, cooks with Tracy's granma, who speaks to him in English. Vic then takes Tracy to the party for disabled people where she's supposed to meet her boyfriend Brandon. The disabled, some of them on a wheelchair, dance at the loud disco music. In another room Brandon tells Tracy that he has changed his mind and doesn't want her anymore. Vic drives Tracy home and on the way back Tracy's mom frantically calls to tell her that her brother has been arrested during the protests and begs her to go to the police station and bail him out. Meanwhile, Dima attended the recital of Vic's mom and fell asleep. Vic interrupts the performance and begs his mom to loan him the money for the bail, and that's when she remembers where she kept it: in the couch that they just trashed! Vic then asks Dima to advance the money and Dima accepts but demands to go with them to the police station, and Sasha, now in love with Dima, demands to go with them. On the way to the police station Vic gets annoyed that Dima is flirting with his sister and calls him a scam artist, doubting that he is really Lilya's nephew. Dima gets angry and throws the money in the air. They reach the police station but there is protest going on and their van is surrounded by angry protesters. They manage to unload Tracy on her wheelchair but the police stops Tracy from entering the station to pay bail. The black man of the car hit by Vic attacks Vic, but Dima defends Vic and enjoys the fistfight with the black man. Someone shoots, the police charges, the crowd moves in panic. Tracy is run over and lies on the ground, protected by Vic. The bleeding Dima and Sasha enjoy joining the crowd of protesters shouting against the police. Somehow Tracy manages to bail out her brother and Vic drives them towards their home. We see the disable artist painting more portraits and then the black man concludes his lecture to Vic with more wise words about accepting life for that it is.
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