Suffused with golden light and a fug of cigarette smoke, this Georgian drama pulls you in to what feels like a very real story of queer love in an oppressively heterosexual culture.
Not as coy as the similarly themed Call Me By Your Name, Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced shows the hyper-masculine world that Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) must face as he attends Georgian dance classes, a discipline that he has given all his spare time to since he was a child. His teacher constantly remonstrates him for being too weak, he should be more of a monument to be masculine. “There is no room for weakness in Georgian dance.”
His dance partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili) obviously likes him and he maintains a mild flirtation that seems to be based more on friendship than lust. When outsider Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) joins the class, he is at first Merab’s rival for a coveted chance to audition for the national dance school but soon their shared determination to succeed becomes attraction and intimacy. The chemistry between the leads is palpable, heightened by the delicious physicality of the dance.
We know this is not going to play out well with family, friends and the dance school. The reason for the audition is that a male dancer was fired after being found having sex with another man and it is clear that, although this is not illegal, it is not accepted. For Merab though, you get a sense that this is the first time he has felt right within himself and his suddenly joyful disposition is poignant and charming. Although he has a battle to fight, Merab is never cast as a victim and the ending is one of power and determination.
The two stars are excellent and a stand out in what is their first film. Although the message of the film is a hopeful one, the subsequent treatment of the film and filmmakers in their home country shows the depressing reality. The government refused to fund the filmmakers trip to a planned premiere at Cannes because of the film’s homosexual relationship and, perhaps tellingly, the choreographer is not credited. Akin is Swedish but with a Georgian background and, as a gay man, he says he hopes this will do something to make a difference to a growing religious conservatism in Georgia.
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