Directed by #LevanAkin
Film review by Nathanial Eker
Paralleling the thematic beats of the highly acclaimed Portrait of a Lady on Fire, And Then We Danced is a well-realised tale of modern romance set in the Orthodox Christian country of Georgia. Though religion seldom factors into the narrative, the sense of persecution towards the minimised LGBTQ+ community holds autocracy, as the toxic values of the conservative, ‘normal’ male archetype cripple our protagonist, making his coming out seemingly impossible.
Merab and his dance partner / sort-of-girlfriend Mary have trained all of their lives to be professional Georgian dancers. They practice the ancient, ritualistic movement daily, auditioning to join a travelling band, particularly so that Merab can escape his underprivileged family. When Irakli, a strong, carefree dancer from another part of the country joins the group, a rivalry soon forms. Through their competitive friendship, the two find themselves discovering feelings that are all but forbidden under the rules of their strict culture.
This theme of prejudice permeates throughout And Then We Danced. Merab’s one-note dance teacher and many of his dancers refer to homosexuals in a manner less than human; offensive slurs are uttered throughout, reflecting the vastly outdated notion that queer people deserve punishment and persecution. As an LGBTQ+ film, its message is handled mostly delicately and successfully, though it does (spoilers) fall into the common cliché of ‘no gay happy endings’. That said, the device is excused here, as it ultimately informs the message, suggesting that many would-be happy young men are suppressing themselves by marrying ‘a good match’ for the sake of tradition.
Inevitably, sound and rhythm are instrumental to the film’s verisimilitude. The diegetic sound of percussion that accompanies each dance makes them exciting events to look forward to. The final scene crafts a wonderful tableau of self-expression, as Merab heroically rises above his issues; the desire for Irakli’s unreciprocated adoration, his family’s poverty, and even his broken foot. He simply presents himself, through a demonstration entirely of music and movement. The combination of his alternative Georgian dance, and the customary fast paced drumbeats hints at hope for the new; a world that combines tradition with the contemporary. A world that accepts those once shunned for being different.
The narrative structure of And Then We Danced is unusually triumphant. Though the film ends with an unhappy separation and an acceptance of the norm, typical of European Art Cinema, there are elements that feel more akin to a Hollywood feature. These moments, such as the final dance, as well as Merab’s brother’s acceptance could be ripped straight from Footloose, though the film balances them with the more traditional European art narrative beats, creating a unique blend of popular and artistic cinema.
Though Merab is characterised by his collected attitude and sympathetic situation, his essence largely derives from the subtle expressions of Levan Gelbakhiani, who brings vulnerability and unrelenting ambition in equal measure, increasing his likability. The camera almost always lurks behind him, aligning us with Merab, and creating an intensely character driven experience. Irakli is equally engaging, blending an exciting layer of mystery with the natural charisma of Bachi Valishvili. Regrettably, his absence in the second act grinds the pace to a screeching halt, as the most interesting element of the film (the relationship) becomes secondary to vague commentaries on class, some forgettable side players, and the unbelievable nastiness of the caricature infused dance teacher.
By the end of its 105-minute runtime, And Then We Danced beautifully crafts a tragedy that exposes the difficult lives of homosexuals living in a traditionalist world. Despite losing his footwork through a dip in pace during the second act, writer-director Levan Akin creates a consistent tone that while seemingly bleak, hints at hope for the archetypical gay Georgian; that he (or she), might find acceptance, even if it means leaving everything else behind.