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If I were to explain to you the setup of Marisa Kavtaradze’s “Slow,” my guess is that it would lead many of you to more or less assume most of what is to follow. However, one of the many nice things about the film, which was Lithuania’s Oscar submission for this year’s International Feature Film category, is that it avoids those expectations, more interested in exploring the real issues and emotions inspired by the premise than falling prey to the usual formulas. The result is a quietly affecting work, one of the more engaging romantic dramas to come along in a while.

As the film begins, contemporary dance instructor Elena (Greta Grineviciute) is about to begin teaching a class for Deaf children when she meets Dovydas (Kestutis Cicenas), there to serve as a sign language interpreter between her and her pupils. From the moment they meet, there is an undeniable spark between the two. Over the course of the first 20-odd minutes, we watch as these two (both of whom are in positions to use their bodies as a form of communication) get to know each other, and it becomes apparent that they really like each other. (The moment when an initially crestfallen Elena realizes that he's only translating at an upcoming wedding he mentions to her is especially sweet.) 

Finally, they reach the point in the story where we expect them to go to bed together. It's at this point that Dovydas drops a bombshell—he is, in fact, asexual.

At first, Elena is under the impression that he simply is not attracted to her—a big deal since the film establishes her as a person with a cheerfully sensual aura (partially explained by a visit to her mother, a woman chilly enough to make the Mary Tyler Moore character in “Ordinary People” seem warm and effacing by comparison). But it's precisely because he is genuinely interested in her that he makes this admission in the first place, instead of stringing her along or cutting things off immediately. Given the strength of their connection, they attempt to make a go of things by moving out of their respective emotional comfort zones to some middle ground between her more traditional sexual relationship and the mere friendships he's used to.

If this premise had gone through the typical Hollywood studio machine, it probably would have been pitched more as a comedy about Elena trying to get Dovydas into bed, and would probably insinuate that his asexuality was just a case of not having found the right person. Kavtaradze instead treats the concept seriously, observing these two as they negotiate unfamiliar waters together. We see both the good times (when they seem so perfectly in sync that the very notion of sex seems like an afterthought) and the bad (when it is clear that will never be the case). 

Instead of piling on contrivances and cheap psychology to move the story along, Kavtaradze keeps "Slow" situated in a refreshingly human level, respecting the intelligence of her characters and the audience. In that, she is aided immensely by the work of her two stars, both of whom deliver smart and convincing performances. The level of emotional intimacy that they display in their scenes together is genuinely off the charts.

Of course, the notion of watching a methodically paced film about two attractive people who may never go to bed with each other may not exactly be to the liking of many moviegoers. Many of those people will most likely further object to how Kavtaradze concludes her story. I don’t know what to say to those people except that they're missing out on something special. For those who, like Elena and Dovydas, are willing to push themselves to something more challenging, they will be amply rewarded. 

Peter Sobczynski

A moderately insightful critic, full-on Swiftie and all-around bon vivant, Peter Sobczynski, in addition to his work at this site, is also a contributor to The Spool and can be heard weekly discussing new Blu-Ray releases on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing network.

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Slow movie poster

Slow (2024)

108 minutes

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