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(The 2019 Sundance Film Festival takes place January 24-February 3 in Park City Utah. Hammer to Nail guarantees more reviews from the fest than any other website around. That alone is worth $1.00 per month to help keep us going!) 

A lot can happen in a single day. Probably not much more, though, than what happens in the two-hour running time of Give Me Liberty, the sophomore feature-film from Russian-American director Kirill Mikhanovsky. Perhaps the best descriptor of his cinematic spin cycle is the recently meme-ified term ‘chaotic good’—that is to say raw, unharnessed, disorganized, disruptive, yet overall a positive contribution to the culture. The diverse cast is made up of mostly non-actors, and represents an array of marginalized groups of different races, ages and disabilities. The film’s strength is finding and earning empathy for these characters while maintaining a comedic undertone at a breakneck pace.

Our protagonist, Vic, is a young man with a lot of older and disabled folks counting on him. His job is to transport them from A to B in his handicap accessible van, but his day-to-day diverges from the typical driving duties and devolves into carrying mattresses, putting out literal fires, and scavenging for candy for an 80 year-old diabetic. Most scenes are convincing, even if one or two moments felt contrived, and the best scenes felt as real as documentary, such as the disability talent show and the scenes with Tracy’s family (one of Vic’s wheelchair-bound riders).

The film is bookended by Vic’s visit with an old African American man with ALS, slowing us from the breathless pace of the main plot, and really squeezing our collective soul. These moments do a good job of grounding the otherwise rambunctious story. The editing nods to earlier micro-budget efforts from the likes of the Safdie Brothers that use quick cuts to skip seconds ahead in an attempt to make up for a lack of high energy action sequences and special effects. Towards the end the film turns black-and-white in parts, and a protest scene is filmed ‘texturally’ (to put it kindly), with lots of shadows and contrast-y lighting. It’s clear the budget here was modest, but that rough-around-the-edges quality seems fitting for this scrappy effort.

There’s so much to love about Give Me Liberty that it’s easy to overlook its pacing issues and instead appreciate that it exists at all. It’s the kind of little miracle a studio would never consider backing, yet gets made by the sheer determination of its production team. Cinema can put you in the shoes of a person and a group of people that you may never think about or even acknowledge on a daily basis, and that has never been truer than with Give Me Liberty. The struggles of disabled and elderly people are significant, but they can also be funny, and a little laughter helps bridge the gap between generations and between able-bodied and the disabled. And that’s a chaotically good thing.

– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)

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Matt Delman is the Editor-at-large for Hammer to Nail, spearheading the redesign and relaunch of the site in January 2020. Delman has been a frequent contributor since 2015, with boots on the ground at film festivals across North America. He also runs a boutique digital marketing agency, 3rd Impression, that specializes in social media advertising for independent film. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine for his innovative digital strategies.

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