‘Slow’ Review – The Ace of Hearts / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase

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“Slow” is an apt descriptor for the unfolding action in Lithuanian writer-director Marija Kavtaradze’s romantic drama. The film moves like an unhurried waltz, gracefully stepping between moments of sweetness and intensity in the slow-burn romance between contemporary dancer Elena (Greta Grineviciute) and sign language interpreter Dovydas (Kestutis Cicenas). In its exploration of sexuality, desire and ambition, the language of movement is key to both of them. Bodies are the canvas on which Kavtaradze paints Elena and Dovydas’ burgeoning chemistry. However, physicality takes on a different meaning for them outside of this dance studio.

Shy glances morph into intent stares by their second meeting, where they’re already discussing the nuances of religion and spirituality, and over bowls of soup at Elena’s home they share life stories. They naturally arrive at a comforting sense of domesticity. Elena asks questions, Dovydas answers, and vice versa. Though we’re first introduced to Elena’s free-spirited ways and unabashed sexual desire, it is Dovydas who leads the charge in opening up. “I’m asexual,” he shares with Elena, unapologetically upfront. “I’m not attracted to anybody, sexually. Never was. It’s just the way it is.” It’s a moment that is freeing for him but to her a rejection. The same evening, Elena goes out and sleeps with another man—a move that doesn’t seem to be a conscious act of resentment.

Though Elena and Dovydas’ relationship begins tenderly, sharp edges begin to take shape when Elena’s actions (on the night Dovydas shared he was asexual) are revealed. Betrayal stirs in Dovydas’ gut and Kavtaradze holds a close-up as they stare each other down from opposite ends of the frame. Elena’s blue, wide-eyed, inquisitive gaze peering up beneath her eyebrow-level fringe has now hardened, and Dovydas’ shaved head no longer bows to her level to press kisses against her cheek. Flickers of their romance, however, are omnipresent with the gorgeous grain of 16mm film elevating their heady connection.

Intimacy here is not an expulsion of feeling for pleasure but a delicate dance of synchronicity.

Slow sees this couple gradually negotiating what intimacy looks like for them separately as well as united. Kavtaradze’s film is an all-too-rare portrait of adult sexuality which interrogates relationship dynamics and asexuality alongside societal assumptions about the label. “I don’t think there’s one correct way of being together… there’s all kinds of agreements. Open relationships and so on. Damn it, who set the rules for everyone to live by?” Dovydas says in a drunken rant. It’s the most expository that Slow ever gets, yet it tenderly strikes a chord. This is where Kavtaradze’s main conflict lies—her film asks: can these two compromise their own desires to fulfil each other’s needs? And will Dovydas ever feel enough for Elena and will Elena ever be able to settle down?

Kavtaradze portrays asexuality as not void of chemistry; Elena and Dovydas’ sizzling connection is brought to life thanks to Grineviciute and Cicenas’ sublime, lived-in performances. The actors infuse this relationship with grounded naturalism, and as Kavtaradze treasures dialogue, they’re able to say so much in muttered words and tentative glances. Closeness and sensuality become more important than sex for the couple, baring their souls instead of their bodies. They’re like magnets, drawn together from either side of the bed as they admire the relaxed slope of a neck in the morning light, and as fingertips trail absentminded patterns on skin. It’s a tactile picture of a relationship which Kavtaradze handles with the allure of any other love story. The director deconstructs their intimacy until it’s fragmented, left for the couple to attempt to reassemble.

Movement is how Slow perceives the sensuality forged between these two souls. (A book from performance artist Marina Abraović sits in Elane’s apartment, a prop in the set dressing that only reiterates the visual language.) One of the most quietly gorgeous moments is when Elena and Dovydas are at a bar with friends. Dovydas stands up to get another drink while Elena watches. They begin to move in sync as if they are two beings sharing the same consciousness. Their bodies are inextricably linked without touching. Cinematographer Laurynas Bareiša, a well-established Lithuanian filmmaker himself, narrows the frame to fit their two swaying bodies. Intimacy here is not an expulsion of feeling for pleasure but a delicate dance of synchronicity.

The title is indicative of so many aspects of the film: the gradual tactile connection between Elena and Dovydas; the rise and fall of their chests as the sun rises; and their realization of what they want in a relationship. Ultimately, Slow’s approach to asexuality and desire moves with an impressive gentleness. Kavtaradze’s sophomore feature, which is also Lithuania’s current submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, cements her as an exciting directing talent.

Read our exclusive interview with director Marija Kavtaradze here.

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