(director/writer: Levan Akin; cinematographer: Lisabi Fridell; editors: Emma Lagrelius, Levan Akin; music: Georgian & Turkish folk music; cast: Mzia Arabuli (Ms. Lia), Lucas Kankava (Achi), Deniz Dumanlı (Evrim), Levan Bochorishvili (Zaza), Tako Kurdovanidze (Tekla), Izzet (Bünyamin Değer), Gülpembe (Sema Sultan Elekci), Ziya Sudançıkmaz (Young Student), Levan Gabrichidze (Ramaz); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mathilde Dedye; A Mubi release of a Totem, French Quarter  Film; 2024-Sweden/Denmark/France/Turkey/Georgia-in Georgian, Turkish, English-with English subtitles)

“Captivating humanistic queer drama calling for the acceptance of trans.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Levan Akin (“And Then We Danced”) was born in Sweden but is of Georgian ancestry, directs and writes this captivating humanistic queer drama calling for the acceptance of trans. It also points out people are always on the move (hence the title Crossing).

A married and overbearing cabbie from the Georgian coastal town of Batumi, Zaza (Levan Bochorishvili), is visited by his stern elderly spinster former high school history teacher Lia (Mzia Arabuli). The neighbor retiree is looking for any info on her missing niece Tekla (Tako Kurdovanidze). Zaza’s ne’er-do-well younger 25-year-old stepbrother Achi (Lucas Kankava) lives with his family in their shack. He has no money but is anxious to leave Georgia for a big city, where he’s unhappy. Achi thereby tells Lia her niece lived on the beach with her friends, but the police chased them away. He heard Tekla was leaving for Istanbul, and believes he knows where she’s staying. He manages to convince the reluctant Lia to take such an opposite personality with her to Istanbul to help her search for her niece.

The next day Achi goes with Lia to Istanbul by bus and boat. She’s determined to find her after promising her sister on her death bed she would try to find Tekla to make up for the family shamefully failing to accept or love her as a trans. Tekla’s dad kicked her out of the house when she came out as trans.

On the boat ride to Istanbul, superbly shot by the DP, Lisabi Fridell, on a hand-held camera, the searchers meet the trans activist lawyer Evrim (Deniz Dumanil, a trans actress), a trans woman who recalls Tekla from their tight-knit community.

Akin’s film stagnates, as he fills us in on the various reasons the boat passengers are coming to Istanbul—with no surprises, they all seem to be looking for a better life. Two young students, Izzet (Bünyamin Değer) and Gülpembe (Sema Sultan Elekci), who play music on the street for change, volunteer to help in the search for Tekla, expecting shelter and food in return.

Istanbul proves to be a place where one can easily disappear in, as the director takes us on a whirlwind tour of the bustling city. But Lia is frustrated, as she keeps coming up empty in her arduous search for Tekla.

The partnership between the odd couple, Achi and the teacher, is both a prickly and amusing one, and is the heart of the film (with an outstanding performance by the veteran actress Arabuli). While the teeming streets of Istanbul are fully captured as a lively place and becomes part of the story. It’s a modern city with a large stray cat population, as well as a large homeless, immigrant and impoverished population. The people encountered by the Georgian searchers all turn out to be kind and wanting to help her find Tekla.

Crossing is a film with a big heart, crying out without tears or fear for an acceptance of trans.

It played at the Berlin Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 2/18/2024  GRADE: B+