Since the release of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name in 2017, every gay romance story coming afterwards seems to be called “the *something* Call Me By Your Name“. It is no surprise that And Then We Danced and another Cannes release, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, were labelled similarly even before their premiere at the Croisette. Although this is extremely reductive toward any film that tries to create something new in the queer romance genre, it also makes us realize that, whether it was timing, casting or the quality of Guadagnino’s direction, CMBYN remained on people’s minds. So, is Levan Akin’s new feature lesser? Or is it going to break the chain?
And Then We Danced follows a young working class man named Merab (the charismatic Levan Gelbakhiani) who, unlike Elio, does not have time to play the guitar on trees and read poetry. Gelbakhiani’s character is a student at a traditional Georgian Dance school during the day, a restaurant server during the night and his family’s main bread winner 24/7. At school, Merab’s teacher gives him a hard time for his “effeminate” posture, even though he’s been dancing “since he could walk”. Everything changes when, you guessed it, the new replacement student, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) arrives and becomes his direct competitor for a place at the final audition, but also the object of his most intense desire.
If some of the staring and clothe-sniffing resembles Call Me By Your Name, everything else is fairly different. For one, And Then We Danced also represents desire through food, and secondly but most importantly, Georgian dance takes a capital role in the movie. It is impossible not to be fascinated by every single arm stretch and pirouette.
Unfortunately, we only get a few full wide shots during the dancing sequences, which is bit of a shame given the performers’ talent. However, this will not stop anyone from jubilating at the end of the movie that, if the rest has not already, will convince you to watch Georgian dance videos for hours on end on YouTube.
And Then We Danced is not only a love story between two men, it is a journey of self-discovery and identity, in terms of queerness but also of family relationships. Merab has a difficult relationship with his brother, which may seem a bit over-the-top at times, but manages to execute a perfect landing by the end of the film. Moreover, And Then also lets Merab explore Tbilisi’s underground LGBTQ+ community briefly, but just enough to make him realize he is not alone.
One of film’s strong points is that even through hardships and heartbreaks, life goes on. There is one wonderful tracking shot near the end of the film that follows Merab from one of his loneliest moments to the warmth of his friend’s arms. Even if, once again the female friend could have been better explored, here she is the support and hope that everything will be okay. After all, as the title says, even during our lowest lows, at some point, we must start dancing again. And probably stop labeling every gay film after Guadagnino’s because this one certainly deserves its own praise.