The importance of Georgian dance is established early on in Levan Akin’s affecting drama And Then We Danced. Georgia is a proud nation that values strength and masculinity as the paramount tenet in its traditional dance. Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is a young man and fiercely dedicated dancer who is training at the National Georgian Ensemble alongside his irresponsible brother, David (Giorgi Tsereteli), and pseudo-girlfriend, Mary (Ana Javakhishvili). Merab is an incredibly skilled dancer, but his instructor is frustrated by his inherent softness. Try as he might, Merab is not equipped to convey the raw masculinity that pulsates through the Georgian culture. Upon the arrival of Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) to the class, Merab’s world is upended in every way imaginable. Irakli has a cool detachment that flusters Merab and his instructor, but he dances with an intensity that is perfectly suited for the traditional nature of the country. As a spot opens up in the main ensemble, the two form a friendly rivalry to secure the coveted spot.
The highly desired spot has not just opened up by chance, though. The word around class is the previous male dancer was severely beaten after he was caught having sex with a man. Homosexuality is unfortunately a hot button issue around the world, but Georgia, in particular, is a dangerous place for those individuals. When Merab and Irakli start training together in the early morning, the two form a bond that is teeming with an unspoken visceral energy. Merab’s “girlfriend” Mary invites the pair along with a few additional classmates to her father’s house to celebrate her birthday. Away from the city, the group embrace a care-free nature filled with laughter and blissful instances of group dancing. It is here where Merab and Irakli covertly succumb to their palpable attraction in the woods. Merab falls hard and fast for Irakli in a manner that is both scary to him and exhilarating. He has tapped into a whole new side of himself, and he is eager to experience more. Unfortunately for Merab, first loves are not always meant to last, especially in the face of such hideous bigotry.
The movie is not so much a love story as much as it is a journey of self-discovery. Merab has lived an unremarkable life filled with hard work just to help keep his family on the right side of the poverty line. He has no control over his screw-up of a brother, who stays out drinking and partying all night and is constantly in danger of getting kicked out of the ensemble. Although his parents were once also dancers, his dad is now a deadbeat who encourages him to give up on his dreams in favor of something more practical. Even his relationship with Mary never feels like it should between a boyfriend and girlfriend. The two have been partners for years, and Merab feels a great affection for her, but the two never seem to have that natural attraction. It is when Merab accepts what has bubbling under the surface that he can fully experience unbridled joy. The relationship between Merab and Irakli was never going to be a storybook romance under the conditions that they live in, but the genie is out of the bottle for Merab and he is not content to fall in line with tradition. The journey is heartbreaking at times, but the sublime beauty that you experience in the end makes this one of the most moving films of the year.
The way in which director Levan Akin uses dance to tell this story is fascinating. The Georgian dance is all about falling in line and not messing with the status quo. It is when Merab shakes this off and embraces the messy contemporary times that the you viscerally feel his rejection of oppression. Levan Gelbakhiani expertly imbues Merab with a delicate timidity that subtly morphs as he begins to unlock the different facets buried deep within. If Americans embraced foreign films more, he would be able to get the same level of support as Timothée Chalamet did in Call Me By Your Name. This film has been lovingly and skillfully crafted in every single way from the gorgeous cinematography to the editing to the impactful script. And Then We Danced hits a lot of the normal beats that a coming-of-age tale would normally hit, but executes it in such a way that it feels incredibly fresh. There is not a lot of room in Georgian culture to embrace a film such as this, but Levan Akin has made a statement that will not be easy to shrug off. As for the rest of the world, And Then We Danced stands as essential journey that should not be missed.
And Then We Danced comes to Blu-Ray with a beautiful 1080p presentation. The movie has a very natural filmic look that brings out strong detail and texture in the production design and costumes. The Georgian dance costume that Merab wears in the end dance scene is lovely in its design. Skin tones look natural, and subtle features such as facial hair show up clearly and distinctly. The film maintains a warmer color palette with strong accents of gold and red throughout. Colors are bold, and black levels are deep without much digital noise. There does not appear to be any compression anomalies. For an independent film that was at times shot covertly, this presentation is an impressive achievement.
This Blu-Ray comes with a pleasing DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that is in Georgian with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Music is a huge part of the film both from accompanying the core dance of the movie as well as accentuating emotional moments. A scene in which the group dances to ABBA showcases the freedom they feel in the moment, and the song fills the room on this track. The drums and accordion during the main dance engages all of the surround speakers in a truly enveloping way. The rehearsal space is a large room in which sounds echo quite consistently, and this track accurately represents that without sounds ever getting muddled. All of the sounds are accurately placed within the mix, and dialogue comes through clearly in the center channel. Subtitles are formatted well without any glaring translation issues.
- Audio Commentary: Director Levan Akin provides a wealth on information throughout the track from having to shoot in secret to the intricacies of editing the dance sequences. There is the occasional dead air, but Levan does a good job of keeping the track lively and informative.
- “A Film Made With Love” Interview with Levan Akin: An eleven-minute discussion with director Levan Akin on the inspiration for the story, the production of the film and the reception at festivals and abroad. There is some interesting footage of the theatrical opening in Georgia, where the film inspired protests.
- Filmmaker Q&A From The New York Premiere: Writer/Director Levan Akin sits down with Julie George and Tanya Domi, Professors of International Public Affairs at Columbia, following a screening in NYC in February 2020. There is a lot of information given about the history of Georgia’s politics as it relates to the film, the response to the film internationally, the safety of the actors after the film’s release and how they secured ABBA’s music for free. This is a fascinating companion to the film.
- Georgian Dance Tutorial with Levan and Bachi: A three-minute tutorial on Georgian dance moves with the film’s two star. The pair does a good job of taking you through the moves slowly, and they are accompanied by some animated bits to guide you. This was filmed while they were at Cannes so the background is stunning.
- Cast Dance Party: A nearly two-minute slice of joy featuring a group of the main cast members dancing to Kite’s “Jonny Boy” while on break at a film festival.
- Theatrical Trailer: The original theatrical trailer is presented in HD. This is a fantastic distillation of what you get from the movie. Joyous and intriguing.
And Then We Danced showcases a beautiful story of self-discovery in a time and place where that type of behavior could get you killed. The director does not shy away from the realities of the story, but he does choose to focus more on being uplifting in the end. The resulting film is one that inspires hope for a more accepting future where individuality can be respected in all aspects of life. Music Box Films has provided a Blu-Ray with an excellent A/V presentation and some noteworthy special features. This stands among the best films to be released this year. Highly Recommended
And Then We Danced is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Music Box Films has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.