Solidarity and street cats in Levan Akin’s latest film: “Crossing” at the 2024 goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European Film4 min read

 In Caucasus, Review, Reviews
Director Levan Akin’s newest film Crossing (2024) takes us on a colourful journey through Istanbul’s backstreets, following the retired history teacher Lia as she travels from Batumi to the Turkish capital in an attempt to locate her long-lost niece.

Akin’s last film, And Then We Danced (2019), sparked protests in Georgia due to its focus on two gay dancers studying and performing traditional Georgian dance in Tbilisi. Yet Akin, himself having Georgian roots although he was born and raised in Sweden, has not shied away from tackling issues that might be difficult to digest for certain parts of the Georgian population. In Crossing, he chooses to once again focus on the struggles LGBTQ+ people face in contemporary Georgia,  some of which lead them to leave their country and seek refuge elsewhere.

Crossing depicts the hidden tenderness of a stern, older, Georgian woman Lia (Mzia Arabuli), who is living with the regret of having silently stood by several years earlier as her brother-in-law kicked out her niece, Tekla, after she came out as trans. With the death of her sister, Lia makes good on her promise to find Tekla. After learning her niece migrated to Turkey and ended up in Istanbul, Lia goes in search of her through the backstreets of the Turkish capital. She is accompanied by a Georgian teenager named Achi, who is likewise seeking refuge from an abusive family situation. Once in Istanbul, Lia and Achi meet Evrim, a lawyer who helps trans and other vulnerable people, and who attempts to help Lia with her search.

Arabuli is one of the film’s highlights. The actress expertly balances between depicting a tough woman, hard on the outside, who carries a bottle of chacha in her handbag, frequently taking sips from it, and, as time goes along, a more tender version of the same character, which comes out when Lia is dancing on the streets of Istanbul or getting too drunk after a dinner with a fellow countryman, requiring Achi to take care of her as she throws up next to a garbage bin. The friendship that blossoms between Lia and Achi is also heart-warming; two lonely people finding comfort in each other in new surroundings.

While the film has some darker themes, it is by no means depressing. The film shows homeless youth fending for their own survival on the streets, and the hardships of trans sex workers. At the same time, it also depicts the solidarity between some of the most vulnerable groups in society. Evrim, herself a transwoman, is dedicated to helping other trans people, as well as the street children who are getting by on their own by performing for tourists and guiding them through Istanbul’s bustling streets. Evrim helps bail the homeless children out of the local police station, while at the same time having to deal with obtaining her own legal gender recognition and the derisive attitudes of the police.

In addition to showing a positive angle through solidarity, the film also provides comic relief, particularly in the form of Achi’s observations and attempts to lighten the mood. As he and Lia cross the Georgian-Turkish border by foot, Achi can’t help but comment how it looks exactly the same on the other side of the border as it did back in Georgia, even though he had heard it would be different abroad. 

The film is beautifully shot, depicting both the Georgian landscape and Black Sea coast, as well as hectic Istanbul. Scenes of Lia and Achi dancing to street music or at a restaurant show the tender, everyday moments in life, where one is allowed to escape the struggles of reality and enjoy living in the moment.

Crossing ends with some ambiguity, leaving the viewer to wonder what really occurred, while also providing a form of hope. In the end, the film is less about the importance of finding Lia’s niece, and more about sending the message that you should not wait too long to get things off your chest, and that you must stand up for the ones you care about.

The city of Istanbul itself also leaves a mark on the viewer, with its vibrant nightlife, loads of people, and the street cats roaming both the streets and hospitals, all providing a beautiful yet chaotic backdrop to the story. At one point in the film, Lia remarks that “It seems that people come to Istanbul to disappear,” but in the film, the city also becomes a place where people find each other, a place where bonds can form and support can be found.

Feature Image: Crossing
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