A sense of place, a compelling story, characters we care about. These are elements of any good movie, but especially a movie with no budget. Give Me Liberty is a debut for a lot of people, but they're all so terrific, you think they'd been doing this for years.
Vic (Chris Galust) is just trying to make it through another lousy day. He's a van driver for disabled people, ferrying them to doctor's appointments and job interviews around Milwaukee. But today is his great-aunt's funeral, and the shuttle that was supposed to take his grandfather and the rest of the surviving members of the family to the cemetery never showed up. Guilted into doing one last thing, he agrees to add eight cantankerous Russians, along with his other passengers.
Well behind on all his rides, hassled by his dispatch, heckled by his scheduled passengers, harassed by his family, it's a stressful experience that feels authentic. (Mikhanovsky did his own frantic editing.) But what makes Give Me Liberty so special is that Mikhanovsky and his co-writer Alice Austen have a deep love for all their characters. The situation is annoying, but the characters never are.
Among the many endearing characters are Dima (Maksim Stoyanov), a charming man who claims to be a long-lost nephew, and Tracy (Lauren Spencer), an African-American woman with ALS who Vic harbors a crush on. In a remarkable bit of casting (that should be commonplace), Spencer herself is also disabled. Much of the cast is, and the film never makes them the subject of ridicule.
It's an insane day, and the last 30 minutes stretch believability. But the film still believes in its characters and their inherent goodness, even if they're deeply flawed. This is the kind of movie to rave about at Sundance. It's a truly independent American film, and feels like nothing we've seen before. This one's truly special.