'And Then We Danced' ('Da cven vicekvet'): Film Review | Cannes 2019

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A mixed bag.

Swedish-born director Levan Akin's third film, set in Georgia, is about a young male dancer who develops feelings for his main rival.

Merab, a young Georgian from a family of dancers, has been training all his life for a career with the National Georgian Ballet in And Then We Danced (Da cven vicekvet). Though his dance teacher is very demanding and daily rehearsals are physically draining, Merab’s biggest obstacle to overcome is the fact he starts to have feelings for a newly arrived fellow dancer, who happens to be not only also a man but his main rival for a much-desired spot at the Ballet. 

This third feature from Swedish-born director Levan Akin (Certain People, The Circle), who is himself of Georgian descent, combines familiar tropes from stories about dancers and stories about young people falling in love and coming out. So besides the fascinating backdrop of Georgian traditional dancing, which won’t be that well-known for audiences outside of Georgia, this is largely unsurprising material that will appeal to LGBT showcases and distributors but which will have a hard time breaking out of that specific niche. It premiered in Cannes in the Directors’ Fortnight.

“There is no sexuality in Georgian dance,” according to dance teacher Aliko (Kakha Gogidze), a burly man with a gray beard who looks more like an Orthodox priest than a choreographer (indeed Gogidze played a man of the cloth in Renny Harlin’s 5 Days of War). According to Aliko, traditional Georgian dance, which represents “the spirit of our nation,” instead requires “virginal candor" — which makes Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), who is having trouble concentrating lately, frown. 

Merab’s career as a dancer was practically preordained, as his grandmother and his divorced parents were all dancers. And his future looks relatively bright, as the young man is much more disciplined than his layabout older brother, David (Giorgi Tsereteli), who is technically also training with Merab’s group for future dancers at the National Ballet but who prefers to party hard at night and then has trouble showing up in the morning. Money is tight in the family — as dance careers are relatively short — so the youth also waits tables at night to help make ends meet.

Akin and Swedish cinematographer Lisabi Fridell’s polished images have a lovely grain and soft, enveloping light, which help sketch the young dancer’s very structured daily life without ever making it feel boring. But Merab’s routine starts to come apart after the arrival of Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), a possible competitor. This new dancer, with sleek dark hair, a beefy frame and round, somewhat roughly drawn features, is in many ways the opposite of Merab, who is more angular and elegant, with his thinly carved lips, wide-open eyes and wavy hair with a reddish glow. Irakli doesn’t only come with the air of mystery that surrounds most newcomers, but he’s also accompanied by a lot of gossip, including the news that he supposedly has a girlfriend in Batumi, Georgia’s second-biggest city.

Merab is “more or less” — his words — together with Mary (Ana Javakishvili), a dance partner with whom he has been training for years. But the two barely see each other outside of their daily rehearsals. And her presence never quite puts a smile on Merab’s face like the one he gets when Irakli falls asleep on his shoulder at the back of a bus or after Merab has visited Irakli’s room at his grandmother’s house. All of these moments are beautifully played by Gelbakhiani, who brings not only a wiry and intense physicality to the part but also has an extremely expressive face that can never conceal his character’s true emotions.

But no good performance can hide the fact that what happens during roughly the first hour is perhaps beautifully laid out and told but also extremely familiar. There is an expectation that Akin, also credited with the screenplay, will somehow step it up in the second half with a new twist or unexpected insight. But quite the opposite happens, as the narrative becomes both more melodramatic and erratic, with numerous subplots suddenly vying for attention and an overdose of plot getting in the way of proper characterization. This gives the proceedings a staccato feeling that makes it harder for viewers to keep identifying with Merab’s emotional rollercoaster, his feelings now frequently snowed under by scenes meant to illustrate the rather obvious contrast between Georgian tradition and Merab’s more liberal desires. 

That said, the film’s midsection and last act contain some of Akin’s most compelling images, including not one but two impromptu dance sequences at a festive countryside gathering that really showcase Gelbakhiani’s charisma and total command over his body (which, it has to be noted, is far superior to Valishvili’s). The closing sequence, while finally open to interpretation in a way that might frustrate more plot-oriented viewers, does work beautifully as a visual metaphor for the pain and ecstasy of someone finally fully living their own truth.    

Production companies: French Quarter Film, Takes Film, RMV Film, Inland Film, Ama Productions, SVT
Cast: Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli, Ninutsa Gabisonia 
Writer-Director: Levan Akin
Producers: Mathilde Dedye, Ketie Danelia 
Director of photography: Lisabi Fridell
Production designer: Teo Baramidze
Costume designer: Nini Jincharadze
Editors: Levan Akin, Simon Carlgren
Music: Zviad Mgebry, Ben Wheeler
Sales: Totem Films
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)

In Georgian
No rating, 106 minutes