Georgian drama film “And Then We Danced” presents a familiar tale of art, passion, and love via its specific cultural subject to observe and appreciate. As calmly observing its hero’s emotional/artistic journey, the movie lets us understand more of his daunting environment which has suppressed him in more than one aspect, and we are touched to see how he eventually advances a little further thanks to a passionate romance forbidden by his conservative society.
The hero of the movie is a young traditional Georgian dancer named Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), and the early part of the movie establishes his mundane daily life in Tbilisi bit by bit. When he is not training and studying along with other young dancers under the stern tutelage of their teacher Aleko (Nona Kakha Gogidz) at the National Georgian Ensemble, he has to work as a part-time employee at a local restaurant for earning the money for him and his family, but that is not often enough for them, and Merab frequently finds himself short of cash because of that.
Merab seems to be talented enough to become as prominent as his parents and grandmother once were, and he is surely eager to join the main ensemble someday, but his dream still seems to be out of reach at present. While his grandmother and mother sincerely support his aspiration, his divorced father, who has worked at a local market since he quit dancing a long time ago, does not have much hope on his son due to understandable reasons, and Merab’s older brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli), who is also a dancer, pays more attention to having fun and drinks although, according to Aleko, he is actually more talented than Merab.
Anyway, Merab keeps trying along with his usual dance partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili) for impressing their teacher more, and then there comes a little change into their class via Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), who belatedly participates in the class as a replacement dancer. When Irakli later demonstrates his strong and confident dance skills, he surely impresses not only Merab and other dancers but also Aleko, and we are not so surprised when he is subsequently included in the list for the upcoming audition for filling a vacant spot in the main ensemble due to the very unfortunate departure of one of its members.
Merab also happens to be included in the list, so he comes to practice more during the early morning along with Irakli, who does not mind at all honing his skills along with one of his competitors. As training more and more together, they become quite close to each other, and Irakli also becomes a good drinking buddy for David, who often takes him to the bedroom shared by him and Merab whenever they are too drunk.
Meanwhile, we gradually come to sense that Merab has felt more than mere envy and admiration toward Irakli, and cinematographer Lisabi Fridell’s camera palpably conveys that to us as frequently observing Irakli from Merab’s viewpoint. Although it seems that he does not have much problem with his homosexuality, homosexuality is not tolerated that much by his conservative society, so he has no choice but to suppress his growing attraction toward Irakli, though he cannot help himself during a few private moments such as when he sniffs a bit at Irakli’s shirts alone in a locker room.
Not so surprisingly, there eventually comes a crucial narrative point where Merab and Irakli face the emotional undercurrent swirling around them, and the movie handles the following carnal moments well with enough sensitivity and restraint. Both of them know too well that their mutual feeling can ruin their life and career forever, but they are heedlessly swept into desire and passion once their bodies click with each other, and Merab feels happier and more confident than before.
Of course, as many of you have already expected, their sexual consummation is soon followed by several doses of their harsh reality. While Merab’s private life gets messier thanks to David’s constant misdeeds, Irakli also turns out to have personal matters to deal with, which consequently make him more distant to Merab later in the story.
The screenplay by director/writer/co-editor Levan Akin, a Swedish filmmaker who has been quite familiar with the cultural background of the movie thanks to his Georgian family, loses its focus to some degree when it wildly dives into the local community of sexual minority people along with its hero during its last act, but then it soon comes to regain its narrative momentum, and then it gives us a spellbinding dance scene to remember. Thanks to the skillful job of Akin and his crew members, this moment feels thrilling and galvanizing to say the least, and it surely helps that Levan Gelbakhiani, who is engaging in his unadorned non-professional acting, is actually a professional modern dancer in real life.
Although it does not feel that provocative or daring to many of us, “And Then We Danced” faced lots of objection and controversy when it was shown at several movie theaters in Georgia in last November, and that surely reminds us that many parts of our world still do not accept or tolerate sexual minority people much. Along with its hero who comes to fully embrace and express his sexual/artistic identity, the movie takes a small but bold gesture in the end, and I sincerely wish that will open the door to more local queer stories to be presented on the screen someday.