And Then We Danced ★★★★★

"Georgian dance is not about perfection. It's the spirit of our nation."

Mesmerising and moving, Levan Akin's AND THEN WE DANCED is a courageous and kinetic battle cry in favour of love and tolerance against a toxic and oppressive culture that values tradition above all else.

Set in conservative Georgia, Akin's film is one where to dance is to be free: free from oppression, from shame, from poverty and from turmoil. Dance is an imperfect protest against the injustices of an imperfect society, and in Akin's film to dance is to fight against harmful tradition and declare yourself free. Like beams of sunlight piercing through gaps in trees in a breeze, it is frenetic, unpredictable and entrancing, and Akin's film uses dance to sweep the audience up in a gorgeous narrative about two men, Merab and Irakli, whose love is considered wrong, taboo and immoral by a society desperately trying to cling to tradition.

To dance, however, is also to declare your love. Merab and Arakli, the two central characters, find themselves competing to join the National Georgian Ensemble but soon begin to fall for each other. Through dance and through sex, Akin portrays their love as beautiful, natural and liberating and in doing so he posits them as catalysts for the change that will free Georgia from its traditionalist trappings, while also acknowledging the deep-rooted self-loathing both characters must overcome in order to be free.

Written and directed with intimate care and affection, Akin's film is masterful rebuke to those who protested against its very release. His characters are trapped by the expectations of the past, which are dictated by their families, their dance instructors, and society-at-large, when the very nature of dance is to erupt, to shed your inhibitions and to embrace life's myriad possibilities. For Merab and Irakli, dance grants them the right to be themselves - to live in the moment, to embrace themselves and each other, and to dare, if only for the most fleeting of moments, to love.

The burgeoning relationship between both men, while tender, is also one of intense passion and magic, and the portrayal of these characters by the two leads is stunning. Whole scenes pass by with nary a word of dialogue, but all that needs to be said is expressed with a glance, a movement of the body, or an embrace. The chemistry between them fizzes on the screen and when they dance, whether alone, together, or with others, it is impossible not to be uplifted by the sheer wonder of it all.

AND THEN WE DANCED throws off the shackles and invites the audience to liberate itself. Exquisite camerawork and choreography combined with a script that bristles with genuine affection for its characters result in a film that bursts with life and love. Everything from Merab and Irakli's first kiss to that incredible tracking shot of Merab leaving the wedding reception, and all of the hypnotic dancing in between, is directed with a bouyancy that is at once serious and playful, and acted with infinite sensitivity and determination. This then culminates in a gloriously profound crescendo of queer expression and liberation as the film reaches its climax, which is undoubtedly one of the best endings in recent years.

It is claimed that Emma Goldman, the anarchist activist and philosopher, once declared that a revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having. Well, AND THEN WE DANCED is absolutely a revolution worth having.


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