Levan Akin’s film And Then We Danced is a wondrous, magical piece of filmmaking. Rarely are we presented a film with so much warmth and life that pulsates from the screen, right to our seats.
The film follows young Merab, who trains at a prestigious Georgian dance company. Georgian dance utilises strict gender roles; men are presented as hyper-masculine and strong and the women innocent and virginal. They reflect the country’s traditional values. Merab is told he’s too soft, despite practising religiously every day and working at a restaurant every night after practice to support his family. His father, a former dancer himself, is barely getting by running a small market stall and Merab lives with his mother and grandmother in a tiny apartment. A new dancer, Irakli joins the group and immediately radiates different energy, which Merab finds equally threatening and appealing. Irakli quickly becomes popular and his skills as a dancer are noticed by their instructor Aleko. A big audition and with it, an opportunity to earn better money becomes available and both men practice feverishly to be considered for the role. Something that started as a friendship soon becomes something deeper and more profound as the two men explore their feelings.
It’s hard to describe And Then We Danced, a film that relies so much on the feeling of it all. I can use 100 words to describe a scene where Merab dances to Robyn’s Honey, but I can never truly be able to convince you how magical and emotional the scene is by words alone. The freedom, the expression of identity and the exhilarating sense of self-discovery present on-screen simply can’t be put into words effectively enough. You’re simply going to have to trust me on this one. The film is at its best when delivering small moments of intensity and intimacy. Akin observes Merab and Irakli’s growing relationship with honesty, but he impresses the most when examining Merab’s quest for his own true self.
The way the film uses Georgian dance is remarkable. It’s the perfect example and metaphor for the country’s homophobia and lack of individuality. Merab craves freedom, his body desperate to move to its own beats, but he is told there is no sexuality in Georgian dance. All his steps are premeditated, dictated by centuries of choreography that came before him. Merab feels trapped, like an ugly duckling. He doesn’t fit into his own country’s ideal of the perfect man, but his body demands him to move, to be free and he’s forced to listen to it and his heart which pulls him towards Irakli.
Akin’s film portrays sexuality with such tenderness and kindness it’s hard not to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, but also keeps reminding the audience of the danger of expressing one’s differing sexuality in a country like Georgia. Thankfully, there is very little violence, only references to the fate of those who dared to be themselves. The film never becomes gratuitous, but the effect is felt. There are surprising moments of intimacy and even something as simple as eye contact is treated the same as a touch; something special, something intimate and important between two lovers. It would be easy to make And Then We Danced into a tragic love story between two men, but Akin’s film is rich with other themes. Class and queerness is explored, but never exploited here.
The film ends with a bang. It’s an ending that is at once exhilarating and emotional, but one that always feels fitting and earned. It’s a huge middle-finger to the establishment, homophobia and the heteronormative ways the country is stuck in.
In the end, it’s easy to call And Then We Danced a gay love story, but that would be diminishing Akin’s work. The larger story here is of Merab’s self-acceptance, finding his own true self and being able to express that. It’s about finding your own steps in life, making your own choreography. Akin’s film speaks to us all, its universal themes familiar, but never stale. It’s a film alive with music, dance, self-love and joy. It’s a must-see for anyone who has lost and then found themselves in this messy world we live in.
Dir: Levan Akin
Scr: Levan Akin
Cast: Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishvili, Ana Javakishvili
Prd: Ketie Danelia, Mathilde Dedye
DOP: Lisabi Fridell
Music: Zviad Mgebry & Ben Wheeler
Run Time: 106 min
And Then We Danced screens as part of BFI London Film Festival.