Amid controversy and protests in its home country and buzz on the festival circuit, Sabrina Martins reviews the Georgian queer coming-of-age film
Directed by Levan Akin, And Then We Danced tells the story of Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), a young dancer who has been training in the National Georgian Ensemble ever since he was a child. But when a new student (Bachi Valishvili) joins his class, Merab starts to discover a new of side of himself.
More than a love story, this is the coming of age of a young man who is constantly held back by the world surrounding him. He is inexplicably attracted to this boy, but his environment is violently conservative and homophobic. He wants to become a professional dancer to earn enough money for his family, but he is deemed too feminine for Georgian dances. Each time he tries to break free, something pushes him back into a cage.
Yet Akin’s film never succumbs to miserabilism – if anything, it is an ode to freedom, a love letter to life and youth. Ardent and earnest, And Then We Danced celebrates the pain and beauty of growing up, the euphoria and anguish of first love, while simultaneously denouncing the rotten ideologies within Georgian society. Being the first LGBTQ+ film set in Georgia, Akin’s film is simultaneously vibrant and heartbreaking. Despite the cruelty he faces, the protagonist still finds love and support, whether it is in strangers or his childhood best friend Mary (Ana Javakishvili).
Dancing is a form of expression of its own: physicality conveys much more than words can, with each movement on screen provoking a myriad of emotions in the viewer. The directing is so intimate, so raw, that you almost forget you are watching Merab through camera lenses: he feels so real that it’s as if you could practically touch him. Levan Gelbakhiani is beyond phenomenal in his role: open and vulnerable, our eyes are automatically drawn to him. When he and Bachi Valishvili are together, the screen is filled with tenderness, longing and ecstasy.
There is yet a sad reality within and around this film. Akin revealed that this idea came from the violent attacks gay rights activists received from far-right groups during a pride rally in 2013 in Tbilisi. When he started his research in Georgia, he was planning on making a documentary, and his actors were only interviewees. On the movie premiere on November 8 2019 in the Georgian capital, similar attacks occurred, and several moviegoers were injured. In times like these, films as glorious and humane as And Then We Danced feel ever more urgent.
Image Credit: filmkrant.nl