Right from the beginning of And Then We Danced, we sense that Georgia is a country steeped in tradition. The film begins with black-and-white documentary footage of Georgian dancers performing concerts all over the world are intercut with the first few opening credits, then it cuts to our main characters practicing their own dancing routines. As dancers in Georgia and possible candidates for, they are meant to carry on an old tradition and not to break from the mold and never to show signs of weakness. The dance teacher tells Merab, the protagonist, that his dancing is too feminine and that there is no room for weakness in Georgian dancers. And so the dance ensemble almost becomes a metaphor for the entire Georgian society, as they appear inclusive and perfectly happy yet display a great deal of hostility towards anyone who dares to be different, in this case be gay.
The film was written and directed by Levan Akin, a Swede with Georgian parents. His last film was a Harry Potter-esque fantasy film called The Circle, a film which I did not like at all and was not successful at the Swedish box office. Whether or not that inspired him to move to something perhaps closer to home I don’t know, but in either case I’m happy he decided to make something more intimate and personal. Maybe he realized that perhaps fantasy and more big budget wasn’t his forte and perhaps decided to make a more intimate story. Whatever the reason was, I’m happy he made the film.
Unlike The Circle, which I found pretty unremarkable in almost every way, Akin gets some truly excellent performances from his actors and display a great talent with the camera and editing. Levan Gelbakhiani is outstanding in the leading role of Merab, who displays the perfect amount of a tough exterior intertwined with a softer, perhaps more feminine, interior. Bachi Valishvili plays Irakli, a more rebellious and open dancer in the ensemble who starts out as something of a rival to Merab but as the film goes on they developed feelings for one another, whether consciously or not, and become lovers.
As mentioned before, Akin also displays great confidence with his use of the camera and the editing of the film and how these two factors work together with the dance choreography. There are several long takes that occur during the film, yet they never appear showy or simply there to get your attention, they’re there to move the story forward and make us relate to these characters more, or to make us experience an intimate moment the way the characters do, like when Merab and Irakli make love for the first time. It’s very realistic but it’s also very beautiful to watch two grown men sharing such an intimate moment together without caring about the rest of the world or the consequences it’ll have. The editing is also, as mentioned, on point particularly during the dancing scenes, where the camera and the editing almost work in symbiosis to give us a sense of what is happening and what it means to each character.
The choreography in this film is also uniformly excellent. I don’t know if any of the actors were professional dancers before the making of this film, but to my untrained and un-Georgian eyes they certainly give the impression that they’re insane pros all of them. The choreographer chose to go uncredited due to fears of being assaulted for their involvement in this film (the film caused HUGE protests in Georgia organized by many of the countries far-right groups and parties and it was condemned by the local church), but whoever was the choreographer definitely deserves some praise for getting all of these dance moves look as good as they do on screen. The dances also invoke different feelings, one dance feels more loving and passionate whereas others feel more aggressive and anti-authoritarian, especially towards the end.
I would honestly not hesitate calling And Then We Danced a masterpiece and it certainly stands as one of the best Swedish films in recent memory, well deserving of its Guldbagge Awards (the Swedish equivalent to the Oscar). I look forward to seeing what Levan Akin does next, and I can’t wait to rewatch this beautiful film.
Also, as a final note, it wouldn’t truly be a Swedish film from post-1970s if it didn’t include at least one ABBA song. As someone who isn’t the biggest ABBA fan I’m pleased to say the inclusion of “Take a Chance on Me” didn’t take me out of the film, so that’s something.