And Then We Danced may not reach the same heights as other coming-of-age LGBTQ+ films, but its unique vitality and the importance of the issues at play are undeniably powerful and liberating.
Though several post-Eastern Bloc European nations have evolved toward better inclusivity and representation of LGBTQ+ characters in their film cultures, as in Poland and Estonia, it can be easy for the more privileged of us to forget about the continued discrimination that gay people are still forced to endure, here or elsewhere.
Georgia is one such state where widespread persecution remains the case. Sparking protests and outrage upon its release in the country, writer-director Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced, a Swedish-Georgian co-production, focalizes its defiant queer stance through Georgian culture, offering a realistic, youth-centric perspective that is simultaneously critical and appreciative of its traditions. Though the result is more uneven than one would hope, And Then We Danced retains a worthwhile poise and charge of energy that is just enough to satisfy and, hopefully, make an impact – especially on those the film is made in mind for.
Set appropriately in the capital Tbilisi, And Then We Danced follows in the vein of other coming-of-age romances with Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) as our audience surrogate. His tough efforts to keep afloat his family, whilst training hard as a traditional dancer with partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili) to join the National Georgian Ensemble, immediately endears us to the narrative. Merab’s balance is disrupted, however, with the appearance of the insouciant Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). A relationship begins to form, making Merab realise his desire for originality within both his dance and the confining environment in which he lives. “Georgian dance is based on masculinity,” says dance instructor Aleko (Kakha Gogidze), the film’s most overbearing enforcer of the status quo seeking to mould Merab to the conditions of the conservative establishment: “There is no sexuality in Georgian dance.” The exploration of sexuality that follows, though predictable, is effective, with all around rousing performances.
While there are comparisons that could be drawn to Luca Guadagnino’s popular Call Me by Your Name, the two could not be more different. And Then We Danced is concerned more with a metaphorical ‘coming out’ narrative, generating a vision of contemporary Georgia to supplement its themes. DP Lisabi Fridell’s soft, handheld camerawork and the sumptuous lighting realises a deeply moving intimacy, making certain sequences feel unprocessed and genuine. There is an irony here, however, specifically in the film’s numerous dance scenes. Their choppy, rapid-fire editing is consistent with the film’s aesthetics, but, in scenes where expression is key for evoking Merab’s gradual defiance, the technique has the unfortunate effect of dampening the emotion. One wonders whether a different approach could have produced the inspiring effect these moments are clearly going for. These sequences are by no means perfunctory, just lacking, and, to a minor extent, threaten to undermine And Then We Danced‘s rallying cry of freedom.
For the most part, And Then We Danced succeeds despite these hindrances. Fridell’s cinematography captivates with complex long takes that weave back and forth without fault, fleshing out the settings and compounding the tenderness and heartache in several scenes. Using little dialogue, Akin focuses on visually representing the characters to enhance the central romance, with time and subtlety provided to develop Merab and Irakli’s chemistry and yearning for one another. The screenplay is economical in its pacing, quickly establishing the characters and relationships, providing each with depth and truth without the need for excessive exposition. Though a few moments in the first act overstate information, settling into the expected routine of establishing and then un-doing Merab’s quasi-equilibrium, the tension that grows and the inevitable fall-out that takes place gives And Then We Danced a sense of stakes and consequence.
What this amounts to is an uplifting call to decide for yourself, an act to rebel. It becomes increasingly clear over the course of And Then We Danced that Merab has to break the shackles of the establishment to truly experience his passions both in dance and sexuality unimpeded. Inspired by several equally affecting motifs of tradition and change sprinkled throughout, as well as in characters like Mary and Merab’s trouble-making brother, there is a stirring push to beat to the sound of your own drum within the film’s joyous climactic moments. Akin’s rebellion against the state, and the challenge he gives to the audience, is loud and graceful, hoping to provide encouragement for people to explore themselves unburdened by society’s expectations. Its ending note is perfectly optimistic, if bittersweet.
And Then We Danced, directed by Levan Akin, is distributed in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures, certificate 15. It is available to purchase or rent via Amazon, iTunes, Curzon Home Cinema and other VOD platforms.