The Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia refused to provide funds for the filming crew of “And Then We Danced” to travel to the Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered. According to an interview given by producer Ketie Danelia to Radio Tavisupleba, the ministry pulled funding after the film’s trailer made clear its queer themes. Subsequently, only a small number of people involved in the film were able to attend the film’s premiere, and this was only made possible with personal funds.
It is a true story such as this one that underscores the importance of the fictional one told in director and screenwriter Levan Akin’s “And Then We Danced.” Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) studies Georgian dance, the traditional dance of Georgia, at the National Georgian Ensemble in Tbilisi, Georgia. His life of routine is thrown in a loop when Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), a new male dancer, arrives. Irakli’s natural talent is an instant foil to Merab’s lifelong practice, but they find themselves growing closer despite this, until this closeness eventually turns into romance.
The world of traditional Georgian dance is a strictly gendered one; for example, Merab has a female dance partner and best friend, Mary (Ana Javakishvili) that he’s been training with for years. With the story situated within such a gendered society, homophobia makes its way into the picture quite quickly, made clear through derogatory locker room talk between both male and female dancers.
But despite the film’s authenticity about the oppression that Merab faces, it does not permeate the narrative. Other aspects of both Merab’s life and Georgian society are also brought to the forefront, preventing the film from becoming a vehicle for a story solely about homophobia.
Instead, “And Then We Danced” also presents audiences with a vibrant and multifaceted picture of adolescence in Tbilisi, with one particularly charming scene seeing the young dancers out on the town and, at one point, showing off their professional dancing skills to casual spectators. Later, we also get a taste of queer nightlife in Tbilisi, making it clear that even though queer spaces aren’t easily made in this conservative society, they’re still out there.
Thus, the film offers a unique opportunity to learn about a country that doesn’t get much attention in the landscape of cinema imported to the United States. Although the story is culturally specific to Georgia and thus hinges on specific cultural practices and sentiments, it does so without alienating foreign audiences. Just enough information and context is given without frontloading ever being an issue.
The script, which is full of myriad subtleties, is part of what makes this possible. The other part is how the script comes to life through the performances put on by the fantastic, skilled actors in the film, especially leading man Gelbakhiani. His performance as a perpetually on-edge and ready-to-explode Merab is flawless without being overly erratic, giving away how the world he lives in has caused him to consciously repress himself in nearly every aspect of his life, even the dance he has committed himself to for so many years. Merab’s learned adherence to what society denotes as masculinity is evident in every minor and major gesture made by Gelbakhiani; it is a circumstance that feels universal yet unique in its specific Georgian setting.
Mary’s character also adds an important dimension to the story; too often, films about queer men rely on a singular female character to either provide emotional support without having any depth of her own, or end up perfectly encapsulating the values of antagonistic, homophobic forces. Mary, however, escapes this fate, and instead has her own feelings and complexities with which to reckon, serving as a valuable companion to Merab while still being more than a stock character. Thankfully, she is neither therapist nor villain, but a character with depth.
By the film’s breathtaking and explosive final scene, Akin has told a story that is stark in its presentation of conservative Georgian society while still maintaining notes of hopefulness that aren’t overly idealistic.