Film recommendation: And Then We Danced

And Then We Danced is a gorgeous film set in the world of Georgian folk dancer and looks at love and desire, tradition and innovation, exploring aspects of masculinity.

Young male dancer Merab has been training since an early age at the National Georgian Ensemble with his dance partner Mary. His aim is to join the main ensemble which will settle his career as well as giving him opportunities to travel abroad. But his world changes when the charismatic and carefree Irakli arrives, becoming both his strongest rival and his forbidden desire. Levan Gelbakhiani, a dancer who had not acted professionally before, gives a wonderful, open-hearted performance as Merab. He holds our gaze, with his beauty and talent but also with his open-hearted portrayal of a character who is bound to his homeland while desiring to break free. Of his final dance, director Levan Akin says “We’ve all wanted to do a dance like that at some time in our lives, right?”

Akin, who is of Georgian heritage but was brought up in Sweden, was inspired to make this film when he read about vicious homophobic attacks on the 2013 Gay Pride march in Tbilisi. Although it is not against the law to be gay in Georgia, the production hit many difficulties, with locations that were suddenly not available, dance companies not prepared to collaborate and the production needing security protection. But Arkin says the film seems to have changed some minds as some older people see the touching humanity of the characters portrayed.

Akin says he was determined to make a hopeful film, ‘like a warm embrace rather than a punch to the stomach’. It is notable that Merab is not punished for his sexuality, nor does he question himself about it. The hurdles in the film are different. Akin also describes the film as an investigation of different aspects of masculinity, not saying that traditional values are bad, but that heritage needs to be pushed in a new direction to make it more inclusive. In all these aspects, And Then We Danced shares DNA with God’s Own Country and can be seen a step forwards in LBGTQ+ filmmaking.

The film to be celebratory of the power of art. In these dark times, this is something to recognise as we think about the future and how we build a post-pandemic world that centres people, art and humanity in its diversity, rather than profit and capitalism. Akin states “We need to make positive things because love is beautiful, so I wanted to celebrate that and not critique the bigots. I’m tired of them, I don’t even want to acknowledge them.” Like The Assistant, this is a style of filmmaking that looks away from the darkness – the bigots, the predators – and looks at the person without power, whether victim or potential victim. In The Assistant this was itself still dark, as the power was so all-pervasive, but in And Then We Danced, we see the beauty of Tbilisi but also its stifling social values, both set against the energy and engaging physicality of the dancers.

And Then We Danced is available on various streaming sites and on DVD.

With thanks to interviews with Levan Akin in The Queer Review and on the Peccadillo Sofa Club.

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