Berlinale 2024 review: Crossing (Levan Akin)

A quiet and resilient film about the power of human connection.”

As cliched an expression as it may be, the adage “it’s about the journey, not the destination” is still very relevant. A film that exemplifies this concept is Crossing, in which acclaimed Swedish-Georgian auteur Levan Akin takes a trip from working-class Georgia to the bustling streets of Istanbul. He is tracking the story of Lia, a schoolteacher desperately seeking her niece, who has inexplicably gone missing, her last known destination being en route to Türkiye. She is accompanied by a troubled young man who was seemingly the only person who put in any effort to know the missing girl, which was especially notable considering she was one of the few transgender people in their tightly-knit community. He insists on being her chaperone through the intimidating streets of the Turkish metropolis, which is also home to Evrim, a young trans woman who has dedicated her life to fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights. With a quiet and resilient film about the power of human connection, Akin once again proves that he is one of our great cinematic voices in this poignant examination of queerness, identity and family, all contained in a compelling and heart-wrenching social drama that sets out to tell a story that will resonate with many viewers who see themselves reflected in any of the characters.

From its first moments we can start to glimpse the direction in which Crossing is going to travel, both geographically and in terms of the themes it intends to explore. Akin is known for infusing his films with social messages, particularly exploring queer narratives. At the present moment, we are witnessing major developments around trans rights across the world. As a result, Crossing comes packaged with a sense of urgency, the director making it his personal endeavour to peel away the layers of a story that carries a lot of meaning and offers new insights into these contentious social and cultural issues. As with the celebrated And Then We Danced, queerness is front-and-centre in Crossing, which is as much a revealing glimpse into the trans experience as it is a bold and unflinching celebration of identity. We find a trio of characters that are all on their own individual metaphysical journeys, and through telling a story that carefully acknowledges the space in which these characters exist as much as their motivations, the director crafts something intricate and detailed, but also deeply moving. Defined by its very simple atmosphere that draws heavily from social realism, and supported by its fascinating oscillation between three different perspectives that all offer something unique to the conversations being conducted here, the film examines an important issue with both urgency and compassion.

Crossing is defined by three remarkable performances, delivered by a trio of actors who commit wholeheartedly to bringing their characters to life with compassion and genuine love. The film is constructed as a character study – it starts by employing the odd couple trope, pairing two unlikely individuals as companions as they set out to accomplish a very specific mission. Then, gradually, it becomes a more nuanced affair, particularly as the story progresses and we see them meeting other characters, each interaction enriching their journey and helping them along the way. Credit needs to go to Mzia Arabuli, Lucas Kankava and Deniz Dumanli, who portray these characters with such incredible commitment. Arabuli in particular stands out – not only is she the face of the film in the sense that she’s the central protagonist, but she is also the emotional core of the story. Playing an older woman who is undergoing her own journey of self-discovery through searching for her long-lost niece while coming to terms with the changing world, she is astonishing and brings complexity to a role that could have been a cipher in the hands of someone who didn’t possess the immense empathy to explore the character’s nuances. The three actors, as well as a few on the periphery, turn in performances that speak resoundingly to the central theme of the film, which is focused around a few social outcasts banding together for a specific cause, and finding common ground in the process.

Both emotionally and narratively, Crossing captures each nuance of its subject beautifully and pays sufficient tribute to those who embrace their queer identity and to the people who stand alongside them as allies, the latter not usually receiving the credit they deserve for making the world a more empathetic place for those who exist on the margins. It may not be particularly innovative in its structure or delivery, but this film embodies the kind of reliable, well-constructed social drama that carries an important message and has enough empathy to make genuinely moving statements. It is both heartbreaking and life-affirming, with tender moments of humour scattered in between haunting depictions of the reality many queer people continue to face; proof that there is always a virtue in balancing joy and melancholy when telling such a story, especially one that intends to show that there is merit in holding out hope for a better future, even if it may seem like it is too distant to grasp. Quiet and resilient in theme, but also deeply thought-provoking in how it handles these ideas, Crossing is yet another triumph for Akin, who continues to earn his place as one of the most genuinely exciting directors of his generation, and someone whose films carry an emotional heft and narrative importance that cannot be ignored.

Image copyright: Haydar Tastan