Film Fest 919: Dancing can mean so much. For some, it’s an expression of personality. For others, it’s a release from stress. In certain parts of the world, depending on how you dance, it can be a sign of national pride. In the movie “And Then We Danced,” the art eventually comes to be a form of protest. Playing at Film Fest 919, this melodrama dovetails into a number of unnecessary tangents, but the central issue is one that’s compelling enough to warrant a recommendation.
One may recall elements of “Black Swan” in “And Then We Danced,” even though the story and genre couldn’t be more different. What’s similar is how different people dance differently, especially if they’re more or less comfortable in their own skin. It’s not the central conceit of the film, but it’s an element that rings true as one of its most successful elements. Paired with the acting, it helps to put the project over the top.
Taking place in the country of Georgia, our protagonist is Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani). Since he was a boy, Merab has been in training as a dancer at the National Georgian Ensemble. Deeply dedicated, he’s spent years perfecting the craft with his dance partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili). The order of choreography balances out his hectic, impoverished, and often miserable home life. However, Merab is not fully engaged with himself, and that only begins when the company welcomes Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) into the fold. He’s competition, yes, but also someone who catches our protagonist’s eye.
Before long, not only has the looser and more fun loving newcomer become a friend to Mary and a rival for Merab, he’s also a bit of an obsession. See, desire is burning within Merab. As he and Irakli grow closer, those feelings come to the forefront. Other same-sex romantic melodramas have trafficked in similar territory, but the inclusion of strict dance livens this one up a bit.
The trio of Levan Gelbakhiani, Ana Javakishvili, and Bachi Valishvili do fine work in “And Then We Danced.” Equally adept at dancing as well as portraying the dramatic beats of the story, the three form our emotional core. Gelbakhiani especially has room to shine, doing so in the final moments. There, the possibilities of dance, especially when you’ve come to understand your true self, are shown in stunning form.
Filmmaker Levan Akin can’t resist adding melodramatic moments and subplots to his flick, cheapening the central story. Akin’s direction makes the dance sequences compelling and kinetic, though his script is a bit too on the nose at times. Gelbakhiani, Javakishvili, and Valishvili help paper over some of those flaws, but the screenplay drags down his directing. It’s not enough to sink the movie, but it does keep it a rung below other potential Best International Feature contenders this year. Akin does find a creative way to shoot the dancing, making it easy to follow even if the art is completely foreign to you.
There’s enough good within “And Then We Danced” to overcome its flaws, but this is a melodrama that could have used another draft of its script. Had that happened, this might have been one of the top titles at Film Fest 919 this year. Instead, it’s more middle of the road, which partly explains why a firm release date has yet to be set. When one does come about, romantic drama fans and dance enthusiasts will find something to invest their time in. Others may have more of a struggle, but the visuals of the dancing, along with the three main performances, make it worth the investment.