REVIEW: ‘Give Me Liberty’ provides glimpse at fragmentation in the Midwest



Cover art for “Give Me Liberty”

Milwaukee is quietly one of the most segregated cities in the United States, and director Kiril Mikhavonksy has produced a film that reflects and challenges that depressing history. The plot structure of “Give Me Liberty” itself confronts that segregation, as three distinct families and their stories bleed into each other.

Russian immigrants, a black family, and those participating in a job training center for people with disabilities all have scenes that feel culturally specific and internal, which then, sometimes literally, crash into each other in the chaos of the day-in-the-life style storytelling. The front third of the film is a mad dash following medical van driver and second-generation immigrant Vic (Chris Galust), as he’s running late, especially once his family convinces him to drive them to his aunt’s funeral.

On the way, there’s mishap after mishap, and the incredible build-up of tension doesn’t release until the funeral scene. This presumably sad moment is ironically the funniest, as the family sings traditional Russian songs for their dearly departed before realizing she’s in another grave. On the way there, Vic had to pick up Tracy, a young black woman with ALS, who rolls her eyes waiting for the family to finish so she can get back to work.

The film subtly shifts towards the perspective of Tracy, played by Lauren Spencer, who turns in a break-out performance likely drawing on her experience as a YouTube personality, Sitting Pretty Lolo, confronting stereotypes about people living with physical disabilities. Tracy’s personal life seems to flourish at the work-training center, where she trains people on how to succeed in interviews, while her family life is wrapped up in hardcore anxiety about her loved ones, who are tangled up in their alcoholism or the Black Lives Matter protests.

The finale is an experimental and abstract take on Milwaukee’s 2016 BLM protests, with violent clashes between police and protestors. We get here from a drunken Russian wake just by following the streets of Milwaukee where they lead.

For those trying to make sense of the broken-up nature of Midwestern metropolises, “Give Me Liberty” works as a primer on everyday people and professionals who are already hard at work making connections across old red lines. The cast is incredibly inclusive, and the performances from non-actors are refreshingly earnest and believable. While the film suffers from overstuffing, it would be hard to suggest what to cut.Give Me Liberty”is chaotic and seemingly incomplete, just like the city it, not always lovingly, documents.