Sundance 2023: SLOW

The quiet Lithuanian romantic drama explores asexuality within a budding relationship.

Asexuality isn’t a topic I’ve seen explored much in film, but it’s a major theme of Slow, a quiet Lithuanian romantic drama premiering at Sundance this week. There’s a tenderness to Marija Kavtaradze’s film, an intimacy afforded to the viewer as we peek into the relationship central to the work.

Doyvdas (Kęstutis Cicėnas), a sign language interpreter, begins to court dancer and dance instructor Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) soon after they meet. He tells her of his asexuality early on, and she is unsure how to respond. Will a non-sexual relationship be enough for her? Elena wonders what such a commitment would mean.

The cinematography by Laurynas Bareiša adds to Slow’s intimate nature, centering on Elena’s emotive green eyes or the couple’s hands clasping in between their laps. The shooting style can be disconcerting at times, however, limiting our view during dance numbers to the area surrounding Elena’s top half. It’s nigh claustrophobic.

While Slow isn’t technically a dance movie, dance and movement are critical to the work. During Elena’s rehearsals and performances, we see the rapport and flirtation among the dancers. And while Doyvdas doesn’t consider himself a dancer, there’s a certain fluidity to his own signing interpretations of pop music. There’s a party scene about two-thirds through where Doyvdas tries to convince Elena to dance with him. The camera remains on her as we see Doyvdas through a mirror behind her. It’s a memorable visual moment that conveys the separation between the couple.

Doyvdas’s asexuality is contrasted with the chastity kept by Elena’s old school friend Viktorija (Laima Akstinaite), now a nun. Elena tries to understand these choices, but there’s a strong sensuality to her character. Her desire makes both preferences a challenge for her to wrap her head around. The word “normal” is thrown around quite a bit, as Doyvdas wishes he could do more for Elena, even if he doesn’t share her sexual desires. Themes of commitment and fidelity also come into play. The chemistry between the two characters is powerful enough that the viewer hopes for the best for the couple, but as in most relationships, there’s no easy ending here.

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