Writer and Director: Levan Akin
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
And Then We Danced has been touted as this year’s Call Me by My Name, but this is an unfair comparison. Set in Georgia, this tale of same-sex desire feels raw and real, not romanticised like in the sun-drenched nostalgia of Call Me by My Name. Often filmed in secret, and with bodyguards protecting the cast and crew, this film has the potential to rock Georgia’s foundations.
Georgian culture is exemplified in this film by traditional Georgian dance, a solemn activity, based on ballet and folk dance, in which all the main characters partake. We also witness other forms of tradition important to the former Russian state such as weddings, ritual songs and birthday parties. It is not director Levan Akin’s aim to do away with these rituals, but to modernise them and make them more inclusive to the young and those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Traditional Georgian dance is both a display of masculinity, and of national pride, and so it seems the perfect arena in which to challenge the homophobia that is rife in the country. ‘There is no sexuality in Georgian dance, ’proclaims the gruff dance teacher of the National Georgian Ensemble near the start of this film. Indeed, 50 years ago the dance moves of the male dancers, some hand gestures are almost like vogueing, were modified to make them more masculine.
Merab is a dancer, perhaps not quite as talented as he thinks he is, going to the dance studio in the day and working in a (traditional) restaurant in the evening. He’s kind of going steady with Mary, his dance partner who he was paired off with at the age of 10. But when new dancer Irakli turns up to train, Merab’s head is turned.
Tales of illicit desire are common, but And Then We Danced has more at stake than most. After hearing about a Pride march that was broken up by right-wing protesters in Tbilisi, Georgian-born Akin felt compelled to film a gay love story on its streets. While filming in the capital city, explained Akin at The London Film Festival, the crew and cast pretended that they were making a movie about a French tourist falling in love with Georgian culture. When the truth was discovered sometimes Akin had to employ bodyguards in order to keep his team safe. Because they didn’t want to be linked to a gay film some creatives chose to remain anonymous for the credits, including the musicians and, tellingly, the choreographer who feared that he might lose his job if named.
This year’s Pride march was lucky to go be held at all as it had been called off earlier in the year amidst protests and so in this kind of atmosphere it’s a miracle that this film was ever made at all. But And Then We Danced isn’t just about the fragile affair between Merab and Irakli, but also more broadly about teenage life in Tbilisi. They smoke, drink, make out and get pregnant, their lives mapped out already. Can any of them escape their fate?
The lead, Levan Gelbakhiani, who Akin found on Instagram, is quite a discovery, wearing his emotions on his sleeves and in his eyes. He is wonderfully expressive, and his two final showdowns are brilliantly and feverishly played. Irakli, played by Bachi Valishvili, is harder to work out, his innocence already gone. Together they make this tender film utterly convincing.
Thanks to Peccadillo Pictures And Then We Danced is receiving a wider release and Sweden (as Akin resides there now) are sending it to the Academy Awards to be considered for Best International Feature Film. This it thoroughly deserves, and Akin’s moving film has been one of the highlights of the London Film Festival.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October