(director/writer: Levan Akin; cinematographer: Lisabi Fridell; editors: Levan Akin, Simon Carlgre; music: Zviad Mgebry, Ben Wheeler; cast: Levan Gelbakhiani (Merab), Bachi Valishvili (Irakli), Ana Javakishvili (Mary), Giorgi Tsereteli (David), Ninutsa Gabisonia  (Ninutsa), Kakha Gogidze (Aliko), Levan Gabrava (Luka), Tamar Bukhnikashvili (Teona), Aleko Begalishvili (Joseb), Marika Gogichaishvili (Grandma Nona); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Mathilde Dedye, Ketie Danelia; Music Box Films; 2019-Sweden/Georgia/France-in Georgian with English subtitles)

“Gelbakhiani gave a glowing performance as both an actor and a dancer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Swedish-born filmmaker Levan Akin (“Certain People”/”The Circle”), whose parents are Georgian, directs a romantic drama set at the conservative ballet school for the traditional National Georgian Ballet. The story concerns a young male dancer’s crush on his main male rival and how the school reacts to this. The uneven arthouse LGBT film does a fine job capturing the repressive scene for gays in the ballet milieu in Tbilisi, Georgia, but despite it being so-well executed (great dancing and cinematography) it becomes dull at times when we’re hit with too many dancing film cliches. In the opening scene, the formulaic and demanding ballet teacher, the burly Aliko (Gogidze), at the school for the National Georgian Ballet, snaps at his talented and earnest student Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), who makes playful eye gestures during his dance, and tells him “There is no sex in Georgian dance!”. At that moment the new star student Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) arrives, and Merab gushes for him. He turns out to be playful, and though competing with Merab for top spot in the troupe often gets paired with him in dance duets.

Merab’s separated parents (Tamar Bukhnikashvili & Aleko Begalishvili) and his grandma (Marika Gogichaishvili) were all for a brief time professional ballet dancers. Merab’s unmotivated screw-up older brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli) also attends the dance school but has no future there.

When tensions mount because of the upcoming auditions, the troupe take a holiday to relax at the countryside house of Merab’s dance partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili). Letting go in this free atmosphere, a shirtless Merab in a white hat, dances excitedly to Robyn’s “Honey,” delivering its provocative line, “Come get your honey” to his honey rival. In later scenes, after much posing, the boys finally do their love thing. Stories about a former dancer from the school, the one who was replaced by Merab, are that he was bounced from school for gay activity and is now ridiculed by others at the school. The sympathetic Mary, who once thought Merab might be a suitor, is a stereotyped angelical figure, who is afraid that Merab will have the same fate and tries to be protective.

Though the director might have gotten it right in how anti-gay and oppressive is the ballet scene in Tbilisi and that all the dance numbers were brilliant (with the dance at the conclusion magnificently translating all the pain the young student is undergoing), nevertheless the screenplay was just too flat and only covered familiar ground. But Gelbakhiani gave a glowing performance as both an actor and a dancer.

REVIEWED ON 2/19/2020  GRADE: B-