August 6, 2020  (Web Review)

And Then We Danced

Music Box Films, 113 min., in Georgian w/ English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $34.99, Jun. 23

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), a slender young Tbilisi man with wavy auburn hair, has a clear purpose in life since he’s been training for a spot with the National Georgian Ensemble since childhood. It’s the same path his father pursued until life got in the way. At night, he works as a waiter to provide for his extended family, including his mother, grandmother, and brother, David (Giorgio Tsereteli). Like Merab, David dances, but he’s also a drinker, a drug user, and a petty thief. Mary (Ana Javakhishvili) and Merab have been dance partners since they were 10, but it’s clear from the start that something is about to change when their stern director, Aleko (Kakha Gogidze), states, “There is no sex in Georgian dance.” Unlike Latin dance, it’s meant to be energetic, but asexual, and certainly not effeminate. Minutes after that pronouncement, handsome dark-haired stranger Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) joins the group. Though he’s friendly, Merab feels threatened when Aleko partners him with Mary for the Adjarian duet they used to perform. She reasons it’s because he’s of Adjarian descent. Aleko even tells Merab, in front of the entire troupe, that he isn’t as good as Irakli before assigning them their own duet. Until that point, Merab has inhabited a world marked by homophobia and misogyny, but it doesn’t take long to see that Irakli interests him in a way Mary doesn’t, though the new dancer says he has a girlfriend at home. He even asks Merab about one of their female colleagues. Through their practices together, they become friends. Then they become competitors when they make the cut for a newly-available spot on the ensemble. The more time the two spend together, the more Merab practically glows, and it’s to the untrained Gelbakhiani’s credit that he conveys his feelings so vividly through expressions and gestures more than words. Georgian-Swedish filmmaker Levan Akin expertly ratchets up the tension along the way. If it’s clear that Merab and Irakli are going to have some kind of romantic connection, it isn’t clear when or how, and even after they act on their mutual attraction, the tension remains, because Irakli is a comparatively enigmatic character, and a lasting relationship represents a huge risk for the both. Things take an unexpected turn when Irakli disappears, David’s bad habits catch up with him, and Merab gives into his long-suppressed hedonistic side. By the end, though, he proves Aleko wrong. Georgian dance may not be sexual in the conventional sense, but he finds a way to make it his own. Despite the film’s Georgian provenance, And Then We Danced represented Sweden’s official Oscar submission, which helps to explain the Swedish dance-pop that soundtracks Merab’s journey towards acceptance. Though Akin’s third film is about as non-explicit as Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning Moonlight, it met with great resistance in Georgia during and after filming due to the homosexual subject matter, but there are signs of hope for the country’s LGBTQ population: it was also a box office hit. Recommended. (K. Fennessy)