starring Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishvili, Ana Javakhishvili, Kakha Gogidze
written and directed by Levan Akin
by Walter Chaw I don't know that Levan Akin's beautifully-shot, sensitively-performed And Then We Danced does anything especially novel, but it lands everything it attempts. That's an apt metaphor, I think, for a film about an elite Georgian dance troupe that ends with an audition where our hero, Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), Curt Schilling-bloody-socks his way through a gutsy routine. It plays out a lot like the audition in Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria reboot in all its physicality and injury fear/revulsion, just as the rest of it plays out like Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name in the broad strokes of its gay coming-of-age melodrama. And Then We Danced is derivative, sure, but at least it's derivative of the right films.
Things change when a new dancer, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), a rake in the Robert Sean Leonard-circa-Dead Poets Society mold, joins the company, infusing it with a sense of chaos while catching Merab's eye. A playful wrestling match at a retreat gets a little out of hand and Merab suddenly finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. The best parts of And Then We Danced colour in all the backgrounds and environments of the National Georgian Ballet. Akin and his DP, Lisabi Fridell, capture the rush of being young enough to ride around with your crew at night, hopping bars, falling into and out of love to the driving pulse of DJ sets, disco balls, and firelight. It's an intoxicating brew and you feel swept up in it for a spell. The film only really ever falters because it cares a little too much about its own MacGuffins of winning spots on teams and other sundry competitions. Imagine if Breaking Away, another film And Then We Danced resembles in its essay of an impetuous young man, yes, breaking away, had been fixated on the big race instead of on lazy days spent swimming at the quarry.
Yet when it's good, which is often, And Then We Danced captures a moment of youth where love is new and the world is all about opportunity rather than despair and abandonment. It's about the climb to the overlook and not the long downhill side, and it can be a breathless experience for how keenly it remembers the purity of that exhilaration. I adore a sequence about halfway through in which future lovers Merab and Irakli are paired together to perform a paso doble-like move in class. Akin and Fridell film it in a series of medium shots and close-ups, showing a range of expressions on the young men's faces as they revel in their physicality and this dawning awareness of their mutual attraction. Immediately after, the identities of dancers chosen for a sought-after post are announced, and the two embrace for the first time. Merab lingers in Irakli's arms for an extra beat. It's tender and timed just right. We all have moments like this in our memories. Either they happened or we dreamed they did and you reach a certain age after seasons on seasons of hopelessness and it hardly matters either way. And Then We Danced is about the things we hold on to for our lives. Candles in the dark. Programme: Spotlight