From the moment that Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) arrives unexpectedly at a dance rehearsal and takes the place of Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), who's trained since he was 10 with his partner Mary (Ana Javakhishvili) for a spot in the National Georgian Ensemble, tension builds.
Unlike Merab, who lacks confidence, Irakli, who describes himself as a "replacement" dancer as he nonchalantly walks into rehearsals, isn't fazed by his dance instructor's harsh methods.
And so begins And Then We Danced, a movie that's every bit as intense as Whiplash, the drama that stars J.K. Simmons as a drill sergeant of a musical instructor, and Call Me By Your Name, the gay coming-of-age story that stars Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer.
The film opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
Though rivals, Irakli and Merab begin to bond after Merab realizes that Irakli also comes from an impoverished background. Much like Merab, who really scrapes to make ends meet, Irakli sends money home to his terminally ill father, a former construction worker.
Though jealous that Irakli has taken his place in the dance troupe, Merab practices with Irakli, who freely gives him advice. "You're smart — trying to learn from someone better than you," his instructor tells Merab at one point.
It's not giving too much away to say that Irakli and Merab eventually set aside their differences and consummate their relationship. Their tryst leads to a sexual awakening for Merab, and there's a real tenderness to the relationship that he develops with Irakli.
Director Levin Akin (who is Georgian but grew up in Sweden) gets some terrific performances out of both Valishvili and Gelbakhiani as the two actors bring real nuance to their respective roles and portray what it must be like to be gay in a country that's hostile to homosexuality.