Swedish/Georgian filmmaker Levan Akin’s third film a heartbreaking coming-out-story is probably the first ever LGBT drama ever made in ultra-conservative Georgia. It quite rightly won over international audiences at the Cannes Film Festival early this year where it was nominated for a Queer Palm.
This is the story of Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) a student at the National Georgian Academy of Dance. He may be one of the star dancers in his class but that is still not good enough for his dour instructor with an enormous chip on his shoulder who accuses Merab of being too passionate.. He screams “There is no sex in Georgian dance!”
Merab has been dancing since he could walk and comes from a dysfunctional family of ex dancers who almost became famous and who encourage him to succeed. His brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli) is also a member of the Academy but he however is much more into girls and getting up to mischief which will end with a shotgun wedding for him
One day there is a new student in class and Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) is not only a better dancer he is as hot as hell. Initially Merab is wary of him as the teacher gives the newcomer oen his own solo roles, but as both dancers have the habit of training very early in the morning, they bond on a professional level. . However when an announcement is made that they are holding audition for one coveted place in the senior corp, the two become rivals.
Since he was 10 years old Merab has been partnered with Mary (Ana Javakishvili) and they have been close friends ever since. Mary however would like to take their relationship out of the friend zone and so one day produces a condom as a way of an invitation. She has however left it to late as by then Merab’s relationship with the handsome stranger has already taken on a whole new direction .
When the two men dance a duet together there is electricity in their chemistry, which gets even more intense when they finally get physical together.. However not only is this all set against a culture that is fiercely homophobic, but it is general knowledge that one of the members of the senior corp who’s sexuality was discovered, lost his job and almost his life.
Akin’s finely nuanced tale is about this traditional society that is so rigidly handcuffed to the past that even the dancing must be executed exactly as it has been done for centuries before. Its ultra conservatism is trapped in an era when the world has moved on and full of progress and choices, but they are left in a past where just having a pack of European cigarettes is still considered a decadent luxury.
With a morality that matches this, it is inevitable that Merab’s sexual awakening cannot have a traditional happy ending. However seeing the sheer exuberance of being in love for the very first time on the face of the talented newcomer Gelbakhiani means that at least it has been a joyous experience. It is a credit to Akin that he got such perfect pitch performances from both his leading man, especially as they were making their acting debuts.
There is a wealth of coming-out-tales but this setting adds a fascinating insight to a society that seems years away from anyone being allowed any sense of personal freedom. More so for anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum is taking their own lives in their hands if they want to true to themselves.
If Akin’s film is setting a standard for Georgian gay movies, then we cannot wait to see more, especially if they are also photographed beautifully too.