And Then We Danced has caused quite the stir in Georgia, its representation of LGBT characters triggering a far-right backlash and requiring police to stop protestors from crashing a screening at the Amirani Cinema in Tbsili. All this controversy makes the gay coming-of-age story an intriguing watch.
Writing about this movie from an outsider’s perspective is tricky. What looks to a more progressive society like a fairly conventional but moving film about a gay teenager coming to terms with his sexuality clearly plays as much more radical in its home country. While Ireland suffered its fair share of oppression under the Catholic Church, we’ve made substantial progress over the last few years in escaping its influence and advancing LGBT rights. Looks like Georgia still has a long way to go.
With this context in mind, it’s hard to criticise such a well-intentioned movie but that’s what you turned up for so here it goes.
And Then We Danced is a sensitive piece of social realism with touches of heightened romance. It riffs off a clever metaphor that writer-director Levan Akin introduces with little subtlety, opening on Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) in dance training at the National Georgian Ensemble.
Traditional Georgian dance is masculine and Merab is too soft. ‘You should be like a nail,’ barks his stereotypically harsh instructor. Otherwise, he risks disgracing the art form.
He lectures that ‘There is no sex in Georgian dance’. It’s bad timing for abstinence and traditional masculinity though because the new dancer Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) shows up and catches Merab’s confused eye. Merab’s already dating his dance partner Mary (Ana Javajushvili) but stolen glances betray his true desires.
The camera emphasizes those stolen glances by clinging to the young dancers in close up as they glide and stomp through the dance floor. It’s immersive, their longing palpable, but makes it hard to appreciate some of the choreography.
Dance communicates to the audience through bodies in motion. It doesn’t overly rely on facial expressions. So, it’s a shame Lisabi Fridell fails to do the same with her otherwise excellent cinematography. Pulling back to static wide shots to reveal the dancers in full would have punctuated the tighter close ups nicely.
Strong performances and emphatic filmmaking make up for clichéd plot points as Merab suffers an injury that threatens his place in the troupe. Likewise, the performances save supporting characters like Mary and Merab’s brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli) who rarely get opportunities to come to live, only existing to provide romantic conflict and play masculine foil. Mary’s eventual response to Merab’s journey is optimistic to say the least – heartwarming if you let go of your inner cynic.
And Then We Danced proves how simply portraying members of a marginalized group with empathy and honesty can be a radical act. It should be celebrated for doing so.