And Then We Danced (2019) is as a stunning coming-of-age story that explores the love and romance between two dancers, and examines the ways in which intimacy can be expressed. Director Levan Akin paints a beautiful story that expertly uses dance as a powerful form of self-expression and rebellion in the face of tradition. In a country where same-sex marriage is still illegal, and LGBT individuals are discriminated against, this film stands triumphantly against the traditionalism of its country.
The film tells the story of a Georgian dancing troupe, specifically focusing on Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani). He grapples with his desire to be a dancer, and feels trapped within the confines of traditional Georgian dance. When a new dancer, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), joins the troupe, Merab feels even more compelled to prove himself. As the two compete for a coveted audition spot, their initial animosity gradually gives way to mutual attraction as the two explore what it means to love someone you cannot truly have.
This exploration comes first and foremost through dance. The stunning choreography makes it impossible to look away — Merab, in particular, is pushing himself harder and harder to get the approval of his surly dance instructor, who seems to criticize his every move. As the tentative romance between Merab and Irakli begins, Merab’s emotions are clearly reflected in the way he dances. Throughout the film, as he begins to let go of the societal expectations placed upon him, his movement seems to become freer and stronger.
The greatest feat of And Then We Danced is its ability to tell an emotional story without using dialogue. Through the combination of choreographed dances, a moving score, and the chemistry between the main characters, so many great moments occur without words. Gelbakhiani is especially incredible in the way he captures Merab’s desire and inner conflict through his movements and in his eyes. The two dancers create an incredibly intimate world that exists only for their eyes, and it feels like a privilege, as the audience, to share in their longing for each other.
And Then We Danced feels like a breath of fresh air in terms of LGBT cinema. It is so easy for LGBT stories to be swallowed up by oppression, sadness, and angst. While there is certainly an underlying current of some of those themes, it feels far more hopeful than other films in its genre. Rather than becoming yet another overwhelmingly sad LGBT movie, it creates a careful balance between its sad moments and its healing moments, allowing its audience to breathe. While it can be heartbreaking at times, the ending, in particular, was incredibly moving, and felt like a message of hope and optimism about the future.
Although the film was chosen as Sweden’s submission to the 92nd Academy Awards, its controversial nature sparked protests and backlash in Georgia. Nevertheless, these protests have simply affirmed the need for more films like this one. The director even responded to the protests saying, “I made this film with love and compassion. It is my love letter to Georgia and to my heritage. With this story, I wanted to reclaim and redefine Georgian culture to include all, not just some.” Akin’s love for his culture is palpable throughout the film; but ultimately, it is his unwavering desire — to tell a story that others would not have told — that makes And Then We Danced stand out.