Rates: * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? Recommended by fatiekitz.
Merab is a young Georgian dancer, who dreams of making the country’s prestigious National company. Dance is important in this society. Merab’s instructor tells him: ‘This dance IS Georgia’. Talk about pressure. Merab is talented and works hard, but he seems to be lacking flair; there is an emotional, artistic level, beyond technical mastery, he struggles to attain. Enter Irakli: a charismatic new member of the troupe, who is all the things Merab is not.
This vital and beautifully made coming of age romance has a tender feel for its main character. The film follows Merab as he navigates the most difficult years of adolescence, his personal and professional desires combining to make an already difficult period, more complex. Irakli is his rival, but he is also attracted to him, in a society that shuns homosexuals. The members of the dance troupe eagerly swap stories of a former member, cast out after his sexual orientation was discovered. To express yourself freely here, is to take an enormous risk.
But: no risk, no reward. Merab is cautious and guarded by nature, and not eager to buck convention. His relationship with Irakli will be consummated, but only in secret; the other boy is not willing to take it further. And ultimately, he chooses to get married and live the life expected of him, rather than try something bolder. Merab takes a different lesson from these experiences; he learns that sometimes risk will be required. He will not advance as a dancer, or a person, without being brave enough to show his true self. The film climaxes wonderfully in a cathartic dance audition, where Merab channels his emotions into a rousing performance that wows his instructors. Art is primarily a form of self expression, and has been used throughout all human experience to help us process what is happening inside our heads.
The film also does a great job of capturing life in Georgia, which is not a location I can recall seeing in another movie. The country seems like an interesting mixture of elements; it is conservative and religious, with centuries old buildings and cobblestoned streets, alongside all night dance clubs, recreational drugs, and EDM. There is a great shot early on where Merab, on his way home from rehearsal, goes down a staircase into an underground room. What is this place? He looks like he is going into a bar, but when he enters there is an old lady sitting in an armchair, watching TV. Is he visiting a relative? The camera spins and you see the rest of the room has a small selection of groceries. He is actually buying potatoes. In one ten second sequence the director, Levan Akin, has told you a lot about this country, without anyone saying a word.
The two leads, Levan Gulbakiana and Bachi Valishvili, are newcomers to acting, and both offer disarming, unadorned performances. Gulbakiana carries an earnestness, that is very appealing. And their dance routines are striking. Georgian dance is world famed, and you can see why.
The film stirred up a firestorm of controversy in Georgia (it should be noted that the director is Swedish). The real national dance company refused to participate in filming, and access to the necessary recordings of traditional folk music was withheld. Akin had to organise new recordings of these, the performers who produced them then asking to be left out of the credits, less their involvement damage their careers. There were demonstrations at public screenings and violence. While homosexuality is not illegal in Georgia, it was only legalised in 2000 and remains a controversial topic.
The issues captured in this movie are very relevant. A personal story, that reflects wider social issues.