The GLBT community in Georgia, where homophobic and transphobic organizations belong to the mainstream, is literally being hit hard. The fear of being banished was deeply felt by cast and crew when “And Then We Danced” was running in Cannes for the Queer Palm.
Fortunately, there was a lot of positive international attention, but there is less jubilation from Georgia itself. For instance, it seems that the choreographer of the beautiful traditional dance must remain anonymous for fear of being fired by an established ensemble.
Director Levan Akin, a Swede with Georgian roots, has produced a charming, sensitive work with his third feature film that manages to withstand all the social turmoil in his parent’s home country. He created a sparkling “coming-of-age” story in tension between tradition and progress.
The main protagonist is Merab, a talented young dancer who, together with his brother, is part of the National Georgian Ensemble. They have been training in traditional Georgian folk dance from an early age on. Their father, now an old car parts salesman in a bad market, once danced on large international stages, just like the boys’ grandmother. Merab and the beautiful Mary have been dancing traditional duets since they were ten. Because of their environment, they are also regarded as a couple outside the theatre.
When at some point the carefree Irakli joins the company, Merab’s world is turned upside down. Irakli is not only his greatest rival, but also his greatest desire. With all his might, Merab tries to struggle free and express his feelings. The two men never express their desire, but they ultimately do stop holding back. Within the traditions of Georgian dance, however, there is no tolerance for homosexuality.
Director Levan Akin started this special film project after seeing news reports in 2013 on how the small, first ever demonstration for gay rights in the Georgian capital Tbilisi became targeted by a large violent crowd, which included the participation of Orthodox priests.
The urgency the maker felt with regard to the subject shines through on the screen. Confident and intimately, Akin follows his protagonist Merab through the effects of his crush in the midst of ancient traditions and religion. Many of the events in the story were based on the real lives of the largely non-professional cast.
The film premièred at the last Cannes festival and has since won several prizes. Furthermore, it is currently a top favorite in the race for an Academy Award (Oscar) as the Swedish entry for Best Foreign Film. This in itself is very special for a completely Georgian film. However, the film also contains some typical Swedish cultural elements. It features songs from Kite and ABBA, for instance. Also, Merab breaks free from his strict masculine straitjacket that is Georgian dance and lets himself go completely at a party with a dance number by pop icon Robyn.
“And Then We Danced” (2019), 113 minutes, is now playing, for current dates & cinemas check cinemien.nl/film/and-then-we-danced/
Werner Borkes is director of the dutch LGBTQ filmfestival Roze Filmdagen, first upcoming edition: March 12-22, 2020.