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.
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,
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
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.