Bridging the Gap with Unconditional Kindness: A Review of ‘Crossing’ (2024)

By Miruna Tiberiu

 

Swedish-born Georgian filmmaker Levan Akin continues his ground-breaking work in bringing together stories of the Georgian LGBT+ community with his latest feature, Crossing (2024). Following an unlikely pairing as they embark on a road trip in search for a missing trans woman, the film has screened at the Berlinale and BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival 2024, and will be released on MUBI later this year.

The first time protagonists Achi – the laddiest of teenage lads – and Lia – a stern ex-teacher – lock eyes, it is through the window of an intimate hut in the Black Sea coastal town of Batumi in Georgia. The sea murmurs in the background, indifferent to their meeting. Lia has come to her ex-student, Achi’s married stepbrother, to enquire about one of his neighbours, her niece Tekla, who has gone missing after she and her friends were kicked out of their hut. Achi is at first part of this background, merely listening into the conversation. But the camera sticks dutifully by him as he runs after Lia. He tells her that he used to smoke with Tekla and her friends, all trans sex-workers, and he heard that she went to Istanbul. Rushing to prove that he can say ‘Hello, how are you?’ and ask how much something costs in English and Turkish, he sells himself as the ideal travel companion. Lia merely grunts in acceptance, establishing a firm barrier between them. So the two embark on their heart-warming and heart-breaking road trip in search for Tekla.

Achi and Lia on the ferry. Still from Crossing (2024), courtesy of Levan Akin and MUBI.

Achi and Lia on the ferry. Still from Crossing (2024), courtesy of Levan Akin and MUBI.

Following his 2019 feature about a queer love affair between two Georgian dancers And Then We Danced, writer-director Levan Akin returns with another tale about such cyclical beginnings and endings. Lia’s search for Tekla is initially driven by a duty to fulfil her sister’s dying wishes to extend an olive branch of sorts to her daughter. We enter into her world early on; her stripped-back home contains little more than two single beds, one of which still holds the imprint of her sister’s past body, which Lia has been unable to even out. Emptiness emanates from this space, and we begin to understand with sympathy that Lia’s indifference is but a coping mechanism for the reality that she is faced as Tekla becomes the only connection she has to life itself. Achi, who never saw the days of communism in Georgia, holds this youthful, post-socialist turn to the future. He is eager to see the whole world, starting with Istanbul. As the pair travels, they travel through opposing times; Achi is looking to see the world, to move away from Batumi and forge a life for himself, whilst Lia’s life force is stuck in a past she seemingly cannot disentangle herself from.

Their journey across the sea and through Istanbul’s underbelly allows them to cross these temporal borders, gradually reaching middle ground. Akin deals with his characters with the same care as a documentary filmmaker towards their subjects. Achi and Lia’s relationship emanates through the screen; we feel the little breakthroughs punctuated wordlessly by shared looks and almost instinctive moves to help one another in nondescript ways. As the pair board a coach from the coast to Istanbul’s centre, a box of pastries is passed down. Achi, ravenous, shoves a few in his mouth; Lia watches him from afar. It is as if she was expecting, in a comical turn of events, for Achi to learn some crude lesson about greed as he begins vomiting out of the bus’s window soon after. There is a glint in Lia’s eye as she gently mops his face up with a handkerchief and gets closer to showing parental care than Achi, an orphan, has had in recent times. Nor is this merely a parental dynamic. Lia and Achi oscillate between the generational divides and moments which bring them together despite their age differences. Much later, as the two are enveloped in the pulsating rhythms of Istanbul’s nightlife, Lia has too much to drink. In a deliciously cyclical manner, Achi dutifully holds her hair back as she deals with the consequences. Thus, Akin injects life into the mundane in an exhilarating tale of found families brought together in the face of tragedy.

Evrim on the ferry. Still from Crossing (2024), courtesy of Levan Akin and MUBI.

Evrim with her queer friends on the ferry. Still from Crossing (2024), courtesy of Levan Akin and MUBI.

Akin, himself a Swedish-born member of the Georgian-Turkish diasporas, allows his camera to be captured by the wafting atmosphere of the spaces that people his road trip film. His framing ever-fluid, our gaze follows gusts of wind or the vapour emanating from cups of tea as we glide in and out of the lives of the characters. In an episodic approach that has been named ‘novelistic’, atmosphere replaces linearity, as the stories of Istanbul’s forgotten communities – trans people, sex-workers, orphaned children trying to squeeze a few dollars out of a passing tourist, and the small but present Georgian community in the city – are woven together with slow, determined care. Crossing occasionally takes on the movements of a musical; Akin’s nostalgic attraction for the Turkish music which provided the soundtrack to his family holidays to Turkey as a child reverberates through his landscapes. In a breath-taking sequence, time stops as Lia pauses in a bustling side-street and breaks into a languid dance, eyes meditatively closed and arms cutting through the late-night Istanbul energy with the same successive movements as the sea’s rhythmic waves. Georgian and Turkish culture momentarily flow into each other, communicating through this sensory experience.

Lia dancing on the streets of Istanbul by night. Still from Crossing (2024), courtesy of Levan Akin and MUBI.

Lia dancing on the streets of Istanbul by night. Still from Crossing (2024), courtesy of Levan Akin and MUBI.

Whilst Akin’s spaces are accompanied by the politicised realities of its communities on the margins, Crossing maintains a thoroughly warm atmosphere, becoming a film about unconventional families and reaching for small acts of kindness despite a lack of complete understanding of others’ perspectives. Lia’s search for Tekla morphs into a journey towards the communities who have welcomed Tekla against all odds. The pair connect with Evrim, a trans woman, lawyer, and trans rights activist in Istanbul. Communicating through broken Turkish and English, and excitedly pointing out the linguistic similarities between Turkish and Georgian, the pair are welcomed into these communities as warmly as – we imagine at least – Tekla had been. Following Tekla’s footsteps becomes a way for Lia to ‘find her’ in this way, acquiring more weight than the literal act of searching for someone who has chosen to disappear. Inspired by a story he heard when researching for And When We Danced about a Georgian grandfather who went on a journey to find his missing trans granddaughter in Turkey, Akin privileges the unconditional kindness that strangers show each other, moving past the hurt that they have experienced as society has cast them aside. The olive branch that bridges the gaps – between the socialist and post-socialist generations, between Georgians and Turks, between cis and trans people – is precisely this unspoken love, one that metamorphoses into a spontaneous invitation to a queer rooftop party, a shared baklava the morning after, letting someone shower first, taking someone else’s children out for a meal, and dividing an apple between a group on a ferry. Tastes, textures, murmurs of music, and smells become imbued with love. These acts forge a chain between the rivulets of stories that trickle together to form the film’s atmospheric fabric. In this way, Crossing shines as a promise that life goes on, as beautiful as ever, no matter the socio-political circumstances one is born into. The future stands by the past as the two walk hand in hand over the murmuring seas and through the serpentine alleyways of the city where one can simultaneously be lost and found.

Crossing will receive an exclusive release soon on MUBI US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Germany, and Latin America. Watch the first clip teaser here.

For more recommendations from this year’s BFI Flare Film Festival, check out Miruna Tiberiu’s rundown of the most exciting upcoming queer films to watch out for.

Miruna Tiberiu is the Editor-in-Chief of GAY45. She is a student at Cambridge University specialising in film studies. Tiberiu has written for numerous publications, including The Cambridge Review of Books, and the Cambridge Language Collective. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Cambridge’s first all-queer magazine, Screeve. Tiberiu was longlisted for the International News Media Association (INMA)’s “30 Under 30” Awards 2023.

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