I don’t write film reviews; this isn’t one. It’s a love letter to dance, cinema and Georgia.
P.S. I urge you to see this movie.
TALE AS OLD AS THE CAUCASUS
Person meets person. In this story, created by Levan Akin, these persons are men: Merab & Irakli. Both are young dancers pursuing spotlight in Georgia’s national folk dance ensemble. “There is no sex in Georgian dance!” goes the instruction. It is, however, an expressive cultural space of hyper-masculine bravura, bravado and other bro-derivatives from bravery. Queerness doesn’t stand a chance. Does it?! In the age of “the first gay XYZ”, this was the first gay Georgian film and it shook the nation to its mountainous core. When it premiered in November 2019, there were riots outside the venue and its domestic run was cut short as the cost of security outpaced revenues. Still, the proverbial right place ‘n time zeroed in on Tbilisi. And on it danced… Let me tell you why this indie movie is the most significant motion picture coming from the post-Soviet imagination last year, or anywhere ever. Meet me after the trailer:
DANCE TILL YOU’RE NOT DEAD
The Hollywood-friendly pitch makes this seem like the Georgian Billy Elliot. The strategy had not been unsuccessful: beyond the run of top festivals, it was Sweden’s Oscar entry and Levan Gelbakhiani got a Best Actor nomination at European Film Awards – another first for Georgia. But Billy Elliot it ain’t … even if I still have that boxing gloves & tutus poster from my college dorm room. Levan Akin delivers a milestone that belongs among the seminal works of (European) cinema like Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows or Ivan’s Childhood by Andrei Tarkovsky. They mark the end of an era, reexamining post-traumatic national identity through its/their/our idea of manhood. [A feminist lens would be worthwhile too, but you know, patriarchy. So, within that value system…] And Then We Danced is audacious in its subversive radicalism.
Nothing is more personal/political than the movement of bodies. Centuries of Orthodox Christianity and decades of Soviet militarism put a restraining order on the Georgian psyche. Upon independence in 1991, nearly 20% of working-age population emigrated. Georgian Millennials inherited a wounded country. They embraced the arts as the fight-the-power tool of transformation with signature Georgian passion. Here, art means survival. I’ve reported on this “trend” in Tbilisi’s fashion scene. In 2018, the world witnessed Georgia’s brilliant Rave Revolution as thousands of people used techno to protest government’s infringement on freedom of assembly and expression. Watch this BBC piece. Feel the beat. Be in awe. This is a nation dancing itself anew.
How about you call me by my own damn name?! The tradition of
Anglo-Saxon White masculinity indulging its softer side amidst picturesque Italian landscapes dates back to the 17th century. Every talented mister ripley and his noble-blood cousin have done the Grand Tour. Thus, the lovely, important, poignant Call Me By Your Name “only” queers up an already long established narrative within the White Imagination. Ciao, bello! … And Then We Danced deals with the scandal-less complexity of everyday queer lives on the periphery of global media concerns. Despite Georgia’s current geopolitical prominence, the Caucasus region had been historically so isolated, the origins of Georgian language are still uniquely unknown (!) In 2019, Robyn’s Honey on late night party speakers is the only moment in the film that infers a connection to some/any Big LGBTQ+ Picture, albeit heart-piercingly so. This is first and foremost about them for them by them. Levan Akin’s storytelling sensibility refreshingly does not prioritize the Western dogma of Pride. No wonder the film has collected festival trophies across the former USSR member states, former Eastern Bloc countries and throughout the Balkans. In the uncompromising spirit of the Oscar-winning Moonlight or South Africa’s Inxeba (The Wound) or Abdellah Taïa’s Salvation Army set in Casablanca, this is film-making for the post-Hollywood generation.
Turns out, queerness IS bravery.
And then I could go on and on, but y’all better go see And Then We Danced for yourself.
This is the writer-director as a child in Georgian national costume while the post cover image by @_toidzenino features a pivotal moment from the film.