Slow review – intimate portrait of asexual romance unfolds at unhurried pace

Slow review – intimate portrait of asexual romance unfolds at unhurried pace

A delicate love affair blooms in the new film from Lithuanian director Marija Kavtaradze, which explores attraction and intimacy with intelligence and compassion. It tells the story of Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė), a contemporary dancer leading a workshop for deaf teenagers, who falls for sign language interpreter Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas). When Dovydas tells her he is asexual, she assumes she is being rejected. He clarifies that he is telling her because he likes her. They decide to try and make it work.

Shot on 16mm film, Slow looks grainy and pleasingly tactile, a fitting look for a film that is interested in many sides of the human touch – how it can soothe, arouse and even spark discord. The gentle naturalism of Slow’s style – full of long takes, restrained dialogue and a moving handheld camera that makes liberal use of closeups – gives the story a homespun, intimate feel. Dovydas’s experience of asexuality, an underrepresented subject on screen, is portrayed with care. With strong performances by Grinevičiūtė and Cicėnas, Elena and Dovydas’s relationship unfolds at a gentle, unhurried pace, their growing attraction indicated by small details – coy glances, long, loaded pauses between conversation – that reward attentive viewing.

But there’s a sense that perhaps too much is withheld. A brief encounter between Elena and a messy ex, which sees the two playfully spar about their compromised morals, is charged with an earthy tension that is missing in the starry-eyed central love affair. As a result, successive scenes in which Elena and Dovydas navigate their different desires – she wants to be physically wanted, he fears disappointing her – can seem like intellectual explorations of a theme rather than grounded conflicts between two individuals. The extended scenes showing Elena’s command of her own physicality as a dancer suggest a connection between her profession and her valorisation of the sensuality of the body. However, Dovydas’s motivations remain more of a mystery.

This makes the film uneven, though Slow rediscovers its footing in an ending that speaks to a central strength: telling a perceptive, mature and moving story about the many ways people can be capable of love. “I don’t think there’s one correct way of being together,” Dovydas says in a taxi ride late at night, Elena’s head propped against his shoulder. “Neither do I,” she replies.