Credit: KimStim
by Joshua Peinado Featured Film Horizon Line

Slow — Marija Kavtaradze

May 1, 2024

Slow, Marija Kavtaradzė’s second feature film, finds solace in the physicality that builds a world around its audience. The opening moments find a man mounting Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) as the two bridge the distance between their bodies in tandem, their breaths in rhythm. The man on top of Elena asks her to say the words, “I love you,” and with some hesitation, the words emerge from her as if she was choking on them. The audience is then introduced to the film’s other central character, Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas), who acts as a sign language interpreter, and will be helping Elena teach dance to aspiring dancers with hearing impairment. Their first meeting, colored by Elena’s expressively choreographed dance, promises a potential romance as she attempts to woo Dovydas into the dance circle to participate beyond his translations. The two’s dynamic and respective romantic inhibitions are instantly recognizable, and the typical film formula would demand an eventual expression of Dovydas’ physicality and Elena’s emotionality for each other. Kavtaradzė’s “spin,” if one could call it that, is in grounding Dovydas’ otherwise superfluous physical reserve in his sexuality — revealing the character to be asexual in an early portion of the film. The rest of Slow tackles the balance of Dovydas’ orientation and Elena’s need for gratification, with varying degrees of success.

The crux of the central conflict in the film is built around rectifying Elena’s inherent physicality, which is clear from the introduction of her character in bed to her expressive, fluid movements in her studio to Dovydas’ asexuality. As in any film built around a relationship tested by one party’s sexual orientation, much of Slow is constructed to teach Elena, and so the audience, about what asexuality looks like for Dovydas. While most of the film treats Dovydas’ asexuality with a sincere curiosity and a hopeful respect, Elena’s yearning, in its worst moments, can make out Dovydas’ orientation to be an obstacle for him to overcome. Though the film is careful to distance itself from this point of view, Elena’s confusion and frustration often plays for sympathy, as if she is the victim of Dovydas’ asexuality. The relationship the two share in spite of this is tender and, for the most part, clear-eyed. While neither wish to capitulate their desires, both make compromises that act to affirm their own individual needs and those of the other. The balancing act, though, becomes disengaging as it’s clear that Elena just wants what she deems as a “normal” relationship. Though the film’s interrogation of what exactly is “normal” promises to the audience that the filmmaker is aware that Elena is wrong, the rest of the film feels like a game of catch-up for the character to come to the realization that the audience had come to alongside the filmmaker and Dovydas ages ago — Elena will need to expand her horizons of what “normal” means for her.

Kavtaradzė’s camera struggles to keep up with the corporeal edge that she promises in the film’s opening moments. Bodies are rarely lingered on in any impactful way, and though the dance choreography throughout the film is compelling, the handheld camera approach, which moves according to the movement of its performers, never seems to reach any climax. As soon as the momentum of a certain set of movements is completed, the camera suddenly switches angles—abandoning the buildup of tension established, and thus causing a break in the performance where there shouldn’t be one. For as often as it emphasizes the end-point of the dancers’ path, it rarely sets its sights on the object through which their energy is being transmitted. (Say, for example, the choreography asks its dancer to stretch their arms upwards, coaxing one’s fingers to spread out to their farthest point, the hands are often ignored for the sake of the torsos — which remain more or less fixed.) Still, the film works on some fundamental levels in spite of the rather amateurish camerawork and narrative pitfalls. Kavtaradzė does build a fascinating world between Elena and Dovydas, almost entirely conditioned upon the different ways they touch and sense the world around them. It extends the concepts of sensitive persons to their natural extremes, and finds a striking beauty in their contradictions.

DIRECTOR: Marija Kavtaradze;  CAST: Kestutis Cicenas, Rimante Valiukaite, Dovile Silkaityte, Matas Dirgincius;  DISTRIBUTOR: KimStim;  IN THEATERS: May 3;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 48 min.