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Slow ★★★★



Director: Marija Kavtaradze

Cast: Greta Grinevičiūtė and Kęstutis Cicėnas

Released: Sundance Film Festival 2023

The Slow Movement has certainly picked up pace within a few years as the world was forced to slow down during lockdowns and adopt slow living and slow travel and a greater appreciation of being time-poor in a fast-paced dynamic. It is not surprising that Slow was filmed during COVID times when Slow Cinema was also trendy, but it is not a pandemic-inspired film. Instead, the Lithuanian film Slow examines the complexities involved in having to slow down and forge those connections within a relationship with contrasting needs. Slow is a uniquely intimate view of a fledgling relationship fraught with challenges and is filmed with a sensitive but curious lens examining that interaction between bodies, minds and fluidity. The film transcends a simple boy meets girl premise with a new but heartbreaking belief that will linger long after those final credits have rolled.

Slow follows Elena, played by Greta Grinevičiūtė, as its protagonist, a dancer surrounded by physicality. Her dance style is that of contemporary dance, which is also very physical, so her essence concerns movement. Deftly, the film establishes her personality; she is non-committal, has short-term lovers and is a passionate, sensual being. Being present and enjoying life’s moments appear to be her raison d’etre, and the camera follows her closely fragmenting her body in dance routines but positioning itself low on the ground, too, observing the grounded footwork of a contemporary dancer. There is the impression of a visceral, animal instinct within her persona, assisted by the film’s quasi-documentary style filming in 16mm. It is a practical example of slow cinema.

Elena’s movements are contrasted with Dovydas’ Kęstutis Cicėnas, whom she meets whilst teaching dance to hearing-impaired students. Movement and fluidity are also emphasised within Dovydas’ world; however, he uses his body for interpretation, gracefully and emphatically providing onscreen visual interpretation. His movements are equally visceral but also contain an element of the reserve. The scenes of Dovydas’ interpretation of pop songs for the hard of hearing are endearing and will draw audiences into his sphere.

The camera skilfully films the fluidity both characters express, and inevitably, their worlds collide, given such striking similarities. However, director Marija Kavtaradze’s vision breathes new life into the formulaic romantic genre. In Slow, the emphasis remains on the impact of Elena and Dovydas’ interaction as they discover a new form of communication and intimacy together. Dovydas’ revelation of a different level of sex drive is a seeming obstacle. It poses the question of the emphasis placed on physical attraction in relationships rather than spiritual and mental connections. Slow therefore eschews the trappings of a stereotypical opposites attract tale, commonly found in rom-coms, and fortunately presents a more mature outlook.

Slow takes its time to unveil a shift in the relationship dynamic compared to the initial euphoric moments of a newfound romance. Its similarities to Xavier Dolan’s film Laurence Anyways are striking in this sense. In Laurence Anyways, a couple’s dynamic changes when one of them expresses the desire to change genders. In Slow, there is equally that introduction to a diverse dynamic. Still, there is also the unfolding of scenarios evidencing that the woman, Elena, has a higher sex drive and needs to develop an understanding. What ensues is a sensitive, empathetic and intimate exploration of the intricacies of relationships and the degree to which we attempt to transform ourselves into a person worthy of love from our partner.

Slow observes the manner in which usual couple interactions become fraught with anxiety with a respectful lens. At times, an uncomfortable watch, but close-up shots of Elena and Dovydas demonstrate that they intertwine seamlessly within a complex situation. The camera focuses on Elena’s gaze and on the tactile and playful behaviour between Elena and Dovydas, with long takes on their fingers gravitating lovingly towards each other. It is a film that celebrates love, despite adversity, through its cinematography. Thus, the chemistry between the actors is mesmerising but equally painful to watch. Their performances are extremely authentic and convincing as the couple’s connection faces challenges of their own creation but also from the interference of interlopers. Their dynamic is so heartfelt that it is difficult not to build up hope, and loyalty to either Elena or Dovydas, to continue watching them dance around each other with such joy.

Slow provides that insight into the complex nuances of relationships behind closed doors in a realistic depiction without sensationalisation and melodrama. As such, its impact and examination of the human condition are profoundly devastating and heartbreaking.

Kavtaradze impresses in tackling this delicate subject with fleshed-out complex characters and compassion; it is a tender film providing that added perspective of romance with someone that is asexual and the question of whether love can indeed be enough. Kavtaradze will undoubtedly be applauded for not casually tackling the subject, meaning that Slow will be one of those affecting films that will surprise and invoke reflection in equal measure. Slow may be useful as an educational tool regarding matters of the heart concerning asexuality and will tug at the heartstrings in the process with such assured direction.

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