Wednesday, April 8, 2020

And Then We Danced: Folk, Love & Pride in Georgia

By José Alberto Hermosillo

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: “And Then We Danced” is an unforgettable love story - warm and unique a coming-of-age, joyful drama about personal liberation and self-realization in modern-day Georgia.

The Swedish, Georgian, and French co-production shot in the Caucasus region chronicles the story of three aspiring professional dancers, Merab and Mary, and the newcomer Irakli. 

The dancers train hard and compete to win a coveted spot in the prestigious National Georgian Ensemble.

The first conflict arises when the severely strict dance instructor demands the students adhere the predominately “masculine rules” and body postures in traditional dances. At the same time, the young dancers want to soften up those harsh regulations of the old traditions, something nearly impossible in their society.

The second conflict comes one fortuitous day with the arrival of a new dancer who breaks the natural balance of the group. Irakli is a strong male who impresses everybody with his prodigious dancing skills, instant charisma, and charming smile. When he enters the competition, everybody feels jealous and powerless, including Merab.

Besides prestige, being a lead dancer means being socially accepted, making the family proud, and a much-needed steady source of income in difficult times.

And Then We Danced, still courtesy of Music Box Films
The rivalry between Merab and Irakli intensifies on the dance floor, but their common struggle draws them together.

Merab slowly discovers that his happiness, and his entire world, centers around another man, Irakli. Mary, feeling pushed aside, hangs on her friendship with Merab, and will do anything to keep him happy.

And Then We Danced, still courtesy of Music Box Films
“And Then We Danced” has an authentic approach to the Georgian and Armenian cultures, blending-in those traditions with the modernity of the new generation who only want to express themselves freely in their homeland.
And then We Danced. Actor Bachi Valishvili, director  Levan Akin, and actor Levan Gelbakhiani. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019

The original idea of the daring writer/director Levan Akin was to make a documentary on Georgian dancers. After watching the first footage, he saw a coherent story and decided to turn it into a feature with a formal narrative. Without permission, he went out to the streets and shot it “Guerrilla-Style.

Akin considers himself an extensive researcher, and to make his film even more authentic, he studied the symbolism in Georgian dances, music, and costumes. Then he juxtaposed those traditional elements of the country’s contemporary culture, adding a subtle display of the differences between parents, grandparents, and the invigorating youth.

And Then We Danced, still courtesy of Music Box Films

In the beginning, Akin interviewed some of the best dancers from a local established dance group, many of whom already knew each other. Once the cast was set, they spent three months rehearsing. 

Levan Gelbakhiani and Bachi Valishvili never knew each other before being cast as Merab and Irakli, respectively. Nevertheless, they dived-in and found the chemistry right from the very first moment - and they were able to externalize those deep emotions for each other in front of the camera from the beginning.

And then We Danced. Actor Bachi Valishvili, director  Levan Akin, and actor Levan Gelbakhiani. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019

First-time actor Levan Gelbakhiani is extraordinary as Merab. His performance brings freshness and intensity to the character. His most challenging scene was dancing alone in the living room - not only for the space limitations but for the physicality required and the real pain he was feeling in his feet. The young actor recounted when his grandma dragged him to those Georgian dance presentations – she wanted to transmit her ancestral culture to her grandson.

Bachi Valishvili plays Irakli beautifully and has a bright future ahead of him in showbiz. He is a professional dancer, not an actor, but is open to continuing to grow as an actor and as well as a person. He humbly expressed that at a Q&A during the AFI Fest 2019.

And then We Danced. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
The vivid soundtrack contains traditional Georgian folk music contrasting with the ABBA joyful songs. The director made clear that ABBA was very popular when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union.

“And Then We Danced” is the most controversial film in Georgia’s history, not only for centering the story on a young man who discovers his fascination with another man, but also for mixing new mannerisms with ancestral sacred dances which are charged with an enormous amount of testosterone and masculinity. This manly rigorous dances are also used as part of their ceremonial weddings.

And Then We Danced, Armenian wedding. Photo courtesy of Music Box Films

The director and the cast received death threats during and after production. The actors said they were surprised by the public's hostile reactions in their native land. Anti-gay groups sent interrupters to the screenings, and even today, some people are very upset about using the Georgian “ultra-masculine ” culture in what they called a “gay movie.”

Amidst the conservative confines of the Eastern European region, Georgia is perhaps one of the most progressive countries when it comes to LGBTQ rights. However, those civil liberties are not embraced by all members of society. In the other former Soviet Republics, including Russia, the punishment is a considerable amount of jail time.

And Then We Danced. Original Poster. courtesy of Music Box Films

Georgian dance schools were established as a symbol of national identity in the 1950s to preserve centuries of tradition with dance. Today, the talented and attractive folk dancers are a big tourist attraction.

Yet another controversy arose when Sweden, and not Georgia, chose “And Then We Danced” as its candidate for best International Feature Film for the 92nd Academy Awards. 

This charming and delightful picture is worth seeing more than once, for its honesty, authenticity, and cultural value. After all, we only have one life to live, and we better to do it openly to different cultures and lifestyles. 


"AND THEN WE DANCED" is available now on
VOD, I-Tunes, and Music Box Films.
https://www.musicboxfilms.com

 And then We Danced. Actor Bachi Valishvili, director  Levan Akin, actor Levan Gelbakhiani & critic José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
And Then We Danced - Scandinavian Film Festival LA
Pascal Ladreyt (ELMA), Vera Mijojlić (SEEFest), James Koenig (SFFLA),
José Alberto Hermosillo (critic).

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