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Controversial Swedish Oscar entry makes its India premiére at 50th IFFI

The film dismantles the relationship between masculinity, homosexuality and tradition, using a form of Georgian dance considered a national heritage.

The film dismantles the relationship between masculinity, homosexuality and tradition, using a form of Georgian dance considered a national heritage.  

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Levan Akin’s politically and culturally relevant 'And Then We Danced' has sparked anti-gay protests in Georgia

Over two weeks after far-right protesters violently clashed with the police in Tbilisi to disrupt the first screening of And Then We Danced, the film had its Indian premiére at the 50th International Film Festival of India in Panaji. Directed by Levan Akin, the Georgian language film is the Swedish entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.

The film, which opened to a packed auditorium late on Thursday evening, has been sparking anti-gay sentiments in Georgia, particularly among the Orthodox Church, ultra-nationalists and supporters of Russia, for “standing against traditional Georgian values”. Set in a conservative working-class setting, the film is a bildungsroman of a young dancer, Merab, who explores his sexuality after a gregarious man, Irakli, joins his dance academy.

The film dismantles the relationship between masculinity, homosexuality and tradition, using a form of Georgian dance, which is considered a national heritage. Male dancers are expected to exude machismo and ‘softness’ is a flaw. Limp wrist, soft angles or dancing eyes are rebuked. A level-headed but reserved Merab navigates these expectations, while being stifled by cultural expectations and societal conservatism. His sensuous relationship with Irakli is both liberating and threatens the fabric of traditional Georgian art and society. While unfolding rather predictably and featuring all the tested tropes of a coming-of-age saga, the film still manages to sidestep clichés by not containing the narrative to conflicts of sexuality or unrequited love, as is often the case with queer cinema with male protagonists. Akin’s film functions as a culturally relevant and political potent antidote to growing homophobia in Georgia.

Sense of fear

Premiéring the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Akin has gone on record to say that film was conceived after a huge mob of conservative protesters attacked a group of over 50 queer activists in Tbilisi in 2013, garnering international criticism. This sense of fear looms in the background of Akin’s film, but remains implicit. There’s a prevailing consensus that being gay can land you in deep trouble, yet the film has moments of celebration and rebellion, within the constraints on a working-class Georgia.

Ken Loach explores a similar demographic of hand-to-mouth existence in Sorry We Missed You. With a packed auditorium at Kala Academy, the film opened the retrospective of the British filmmaker. Exploring the distress of exploitative labour laws among the working-class in the U.K., the film is an urgent takedown of a capitalist society that marginalises people. “It’s always extraordinary to me that stories we tell about our society make an impact around the world,” Mr. Loach, said in a video message at the festival’s opening ceremony.

As a homage to French actor Isabelle Huppert’s career, the festival screened her Oscar-nominated 2016 film, Elle. Dressed in a floral white dress, the actor walked the red carpet ahead of the screening, in which she plays a provocative character on a path to avenge her rape.

“I play persons and not characters, and like with Elle, and many other films, it’s not the people but the situations that are not likeable,” said Ms. Huppert.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 9:52:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/controversial-swedish-oscar-entry-makes-its-india-premire-at-50th-iffi/article30055694.ece

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