Critical Writing & Reviewing, Summer 2019
In his third feature film, Swedish-born Levan Akin returns to his familial roots of Georgia in order to explore the issues faced by the Georgian LGBT community. And Then We Danced is an achingly sweet and thought-provoking film about self-acceptance in the face of external intolerance, all set against the backdrop of the deeply conservative tradition of the Georgian ballet.
Levan Gelbakhiani is magnetic in his performance as Merab, the young Georgian dancer who falls for his new duet partner, Irakli, played by another first-time actor Bachi Valishvili. Both being gifted dancers, Gelbakhiani specifically shines in every dance sequence, selling the emotional arc of both the character and the film in every motion. Both leads captivate in their respective roles and deliver phenomenal performances.
The direction and cinematography of the film take inspiration from the dancing on which it focuses, gradually changing throughout the film. It employs close angles and sharp cuts at the beginning of the film to mirror the staccato of traditional Georgian dancing, whereas the cutting of the film gets more fluid as Merab begins to dance more free-form and contemporary throughout his journey of self-discovery. Representing Merab’s story through the incredibly physical act of dancing creates beautiful imagery throughout the film, paired with an incredible soundtrack of modern indie-music and traditional Georgian folk songs.
The authenticity of the film is also palpable. Inspired by the attacks on the Georgian pride parade years prior, Akin interviewed members of the LGBT community in Georgia for months before beginning the film. Forced to lie about the content of the movie in order to film in Georgia, the stakes of this film feel incredibly real, and the performances therefore all the more impressive. The guerilla style of filming, while certainly necessary, also creates this almost unintended effect of intimacy. The whole film feels like a heartfelt dance and a love letter to anyone who has struggled to come to terms with their identity and the culture that raised them but may no longer want them.
The acting, the thoughtful direction, and the endearing script are what turns an arguably less than novel story into an amazing film. The actual story itself is a well-worn one, drawing inspiration from tropes of coming-out films and dance films, making the plot itself fairly predictable. However, it is a testament to all those involved with the cinematic elements that the movie outshines its simplicity. The film is simply too beautiful aesthetically and emotionally moving to nitpick at the tropes.
And Then We Danced also embraces every aspect of its setting, a country not previously explored in this genre. The backdrop of Georgia is more than a stylistic bonus: it provides a necessary non-Western perspective, something previously not discussed enough in LGBT films. Exploring sexuality and gender norms in a culture deeply rooted in conservative traditions allows viewers to understand the stakes of the protagonists as they struggle to find themselves. However, Akin is not attempting to condemn Georgian culture, rather encourage a celebration while striving towards defining the culture.
Despite being a typical coming-out/coming-of-age film, And Then We Danced takes great pains to be a story about the joy of self-acceptance versus the much more common story about self-loathing post-sexual awakening. Once Merab falls for Irakli, and realizes that he is not attracted to women, he becomes happier than any scene in the film’s opening ever made it seem that he could be. There is no hesitation or denial typical to films of this specific niche, and it is extremely refreshing to watch.
There is no moment in the film of pure rejection either. The external pressures are definitely present throughout the whole film, but Merab has no moment of hitting rock bottom. All emotional stakes come from the relationship itself, and while it is not entirely a happy journey, it is not the typical woe-begotten queer romance that usually dominates the screen either.
Regarding the romance itself, Merab and Irakli’s chemistry make for a wholly engaging story of young love. Their relationship is not rooted in some angst-ridden fantasy, rather in mutual attraction as they partake in typical teenage activities. The scenes in which they went out as a group with their friends are almost as rewarding as the scenes with just the two of them together, each as joyful and fun as the other. The whole cast, made up of a mix of amateurs, actors, and full-time dancers, excel in their respective roles.
Maybe And Then We Danced is not the most original film to grace the screens, but it does not mean that it is not fantastic to watch. The story is compelling to a fault, creating characters that stretch beyond their simple concepts through winning performances. It does fit nicely in its genre and niche, but the film is a necessary inclusion and a must-watch in any context.
Cast: Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishvili, Ava Javakishvili
Written and directed by Levan Akin