A Look at Asexuality and Intimacy in Marija Kavtaradze’s ‘Slow’ (REVIEW)

The 2023 edition of the Sundance Film Festival brought forth numerous films tackling connection. Along with this, we witnessed the complicated nature that comes with feeling tied to someone else in this world. Titled after the tune of a Leonard Cohen song, Slow was a surprising yet bittersweet delight.

Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) is a professional contemporary dancer. She dances for a living, and she also teaches. Through a fateful encounter, Elena and Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas) meet. She is instructing a class of deaf youth, and he is the interpreter. They are drawn to each other instantly. 

The intimacy they’re walking towards is palpable, but there’s also an innocence to it. It’s almost like discovering love for the first time. There’s an inevitable gravitational pull that keeps bringing these two together. This allows for an instant connection to form. It starts off friendly, but it soon evolves into the possibility of a true romantic bond. 

Kęstutis Cicėnas as Dovydas and Greta Grinevičiūtė as Elena in Slow (COURTESY: Sundance)

When things progress, Dovydas confides in Elena that he is asexual. This throws her off. She quickly comes face to face with her doubts and insecurities, never having confronted this before. Soon, an invisible wall forms between them, as Dovydas must also accept that he might never be enough for Elena.

Marija Kavtaradze, considered one of the most talented upcoming filmmakers in Lithuania, shines with her tender sophomore film. As the director and writer of the feature, she can explore a relationship that attempts to thrive in a fast-paced world. When romantic relationships have been limited to the swipe of a finger, it is refreshing to witness a project that dares challenge this. Not only does it do this, but it presents a challenge to the status quo of dating through grown adults. 

Greta Grinevičiūtė as Elena and Kęstutis Cicėnas as Dovydas in Slow (COURTESY: Sundance)

Oftentimes, this kind of dynamic is lent to the youth because they still have a lot to learn when it comes to love and romance as well as sexual intimacy, both the potential of it and the lack of it. Yet, here we can see this through Elena and Dovydas. Two professional people with their own lives, rediscovering what it means to truly know someone and to take things slow. They do not take any moment for granted. 

Kavtaradze also leads the audience through the eyes of Elena and her own struggle to understand what she truly wants. She’s constantly caught between the conscious and the subconscious, at war between romantic and sensual desires. Asexuality is something rarely explored or even discussed. So many layers fall under this umbrella of sexuality, and Kavtaradze was able to hit the nail right on the head. 

Greta Grinevičiūtė as Elena in Slow (COURTESY: Sundance)

More specifically, the film explores a common fear that comes with asexuality: will they accept me as I am? While this is a common human fear, oftentimes, with asexuality, one questions whether they will be enough for someone as Dovydas does. 

The film then takes a turn, diving into the moment when a relationship sours with the danger of becoming one-sided. They both want something from the other that they cannot receive in return. How do you compromise your very existence? 

We’re then treading down a winding road demonstrating communication’s importance. An excellent way to stabilize a relationship and maintain healthy boundaries is to make an extra effort to learn about each other. Elena did not seem open to the possibility of learning more about asexuality to meet Dovydas and his needs. This is what the film sets out to discover. Can these two meet in the middle and fulfill each other’s desires? Kavtaradze does this so well through dance, captured beautifully by the cinematography of the movie’s director of photography, Laurynas Bareiša.

Slow ultimately becomes an exploration of the body and desire. It dissects intimacy in its many forms and facets, be it physical, emotional, or even mental. There’s a truth to this film that many have yet to uncover in life. Personally, it left me quite unsettled toward the end with how it handled their dynamic when it came to Dovydas’s sexuality. While it is visually pleasing and straightforward in its execution with spirited performances, it would have been nice to have witnessed a different ending. However, it seems it was a doomed relationship from the start. 

Rating: 6/10

Slow had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

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