Slow Is a Smoldering, Complicated Love Story

Courtesy of KimStim

Immediately, from the very first frame in the very first scene, Slow is an examination of intimacy. What does it mean to be intimate with someone? Is it strictly sexual? Is a sexual relationship necessary for romance? Is intimacy inherently romantic? Maybe these questions are jumping the gun a bit, because for all its lofty musings about love, partnership, and human connection, Slow is fairly bare-bones. It is, at its heart, a story of two people getting to know each other. The bizarre, exclusive-to-human experience of someone who was once a stranger becoming a staple in your daily life. How two people can come together to form a union bigger than themselves is the question Slow seeks to answer. The conclusion is that this connection is impossible to explain and contain in one film, but, much like romance in general, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) is a modern dance teacher and performer. She lives alone, has flings with men that don’t last, and enjoys her solitude. She has some close friends, but no long-term partner. While some might be bothered by that, Elena isn’t, and she isn’t actively searching for someone to spend her life with. That’s probably why meeting Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas) throws her for such a loop. Dovydas is a sign language interpreter who’s assigned to aid Elena’s new class of deaf dancers. The two form a tentative relationship that snowballs into something more, and they must navigate their feelings for each other while facing some indisputable truths.

Close up of Elena and Dovydas
Courtesy of KimStim

What does a romantic drama look like when the hallmarks of a relationship that we’re familiar with aren’t present? The central relationship of Slow is different from what many are used to seeing in a film in this genre. Dovydas is asexual, which is an identity that many don’t fully understand. In the same way that there’s a spectrum when it comes to sexuality, asexuality is an umbrella term with more specific identities that fall underneath. The basic definition of asexuality offered in The Trevor Project says that those who are sexual “may have little interest in having sex, even though they desire emotionally intimate relationships.”

At first, Elena fully shuts down because she doesn’t understand what asexuality means and what it would mean for their potential relationship. Slow addresses asexuality throughout the film, but the script seems to have avoided a more in-depth discussion between Dovydas and Elena about what a relationship between them needs to look like. There are asexual people who only experience sexual desire once they form a deep connection with someone, and people who might experience arousal and choose to masturbate while still identifying as asexual. At one point in the film, Elena questions Dovydas’ masturbation, and he says he’s essentially going through the motions. It upsets her because she doesn’t understand why he’ll do that, but won’t have sex with her.

Elena's friends circle around her at the dance studio
Courtesy of KimStim

Asexuality is an identity that’s rarely seen on screen, and one that’s even rarer at the center of a romantic drama. At times, Slow is beautifully intimate. Cicėnas and Grinevičiūtė are magnetic as they awkwardly navigate their burgeoning feelings for one another. It might be personal preference, but I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of watching two people who clearly like each other meander around a city in a desperate attempt to elongate the time they have with this stranger whose presence is growing in their life. Slow scratches that itch, but as hypnotizing as the two leads are, there are quite a few necessary conversations between them that just never happen. Elena never asks what it is Dovydas needs or wants in a relationship, and neither does Dovydas. There was a possibility for honest conversations about asexuality and relationships, but Slow shies away from really excavating the building blocks of Elena and Dovydas, to the detriment of plot development.

Even though Slow is missing some of the conversations that are necessary in a relationship like Elena and Dovydas’, it is an achingly tender look at two people whose careers are in intimate situations and how they redefine intimacy in their personal lives. As a dance instructor, Elena encourages people to feel present in their bodies and is often in their personal spaces. As an interpreter, Dovydas accompanies people to doctor visits where he has to relay personal medical information to a stranger. Both have a livelihood that requires them to create an aura of compassion and trust in strangers, so it’s fascinating to watch them rediscover what that looks like in a romantic relationship.

Slow is an imperfect romantic comedy, along the lines of Fallen Leaves and La La Land. Some of the classic tropes are at play in all these works, but there are no rose-colored glasses. Sometimes you put your heart and soul into another person and it doesn’t work out, but not because of any cruel or malicious actions. Sometimes (and this is maybe the most heartbreaking part of allowing yourself to be intimately known by another person), things just don’t work. It’s no one’s fault and life goes on, but the loss still feels monumental. This is the fear that comes with every relationship. Elena and Dovydas are still bound to those worries, as are we all. Slow is an ode to the connections we form with other people, no matter how fleeting or eternal they may be.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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