Sundance 2023 review: Slow (Marija Kavtaradze)

Slow is a meaningful investigation of the concept of love, carefully pieced together by a director whose command of her craft results in an engaging and heartfelt investigation into the human condition.”

As one navigates life, we soon come to realize that some of the most profound statements are not those that are boldly proclaimed, but rather the ones that are left unsaid, since there is a complexity to silence that we often struggle to recognize until it has passed us. This is the foundation on which Marija Kavtaradze constructs Slow, a beautiful and poetic romantic drama that focuses on the lives of two people, a dedicated dancer who works to help others learn the liberating power of movement, and a sign language interpreter that she comes across through one of her social outreach initiatives. The pair find themselves striking an immediate connection, which leads them to develop a relationship that may not be conventional in the sense that either may have anticipated, but is distinctly their own, drawn from a much deeper place of emotional and psychological desire. As her second feature-length directorial effort, Kavtaradze handcrafts many of the most beautiful moments in Slow through engaging with the material on a deeply personal level, drawing out details that can most appropriately be described as aligning with the simple but beautiful art of observing life, celebrating the smallest details and acknowledging its unpredictability, which guides these characters down a path of discovery that neither of them could have ever imagined would lead them to this point. A film that contains a genuine curiosity for the world it inhabits, as well as the most gentle sense of humour, Slow is a charming work that understands and acknowledges many of life’s more unexpected quirks, finding ways to challenge and subvert without becoming overwrought or overly philosophical.

The first major moment when the audience realizes that Slow is not going to be a traditional romantic drama comes early in the film, during what we would expect to be the first sexual encounter between these two characters who clearly demonstrate a mutual attraction – but it is cut short when it is revealed that Dovydas (played beautifully by Kestutis Cicenas) identifies as asexual, and thus he is not interested in the physical act of lovemaking, which propels Elena (a striking performance by Greta Grineviciute) to question her own understanding of what a traditional relationship should be. Kavtaradze wastes very little time in getting to the heart of the matter, crafting an unorthodox depiction of love, one where the concept of romance and companionship is formed less from carnal desire, and more on authentic human connection. This is a factor in any meaningful relationship, but Slow questions whether a love affair in which the only genuine point of attraction is a more intellectual stimulus can be feasible. It is not necessarily an examination of a platonic relationship, since these characters are certainly in love – but rather, it functions as a love story without a traditional view of intimacy, exploring how two individuals can love each other based purely on who they are inside, a stark contrast to a generation supposedly driven by visceral desire.

The film offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of these characters, both individually and together, the latter being where the story is significantly effective – the most passionate moments come about when Elena and Dovydas connect on a profoundly intellectual and emotional level. The few scenes of sexuality are intentionally stilted and awkward, lacking passion and nuance, which stands in stark comparison to their more engaging experiences outside of it, proving that there are some relationships that do not require a physical aspect to have meaning. However, Slow is not exclusively focused on looking at how two people navigate an unconventional relationship – it may be the impetus for many of the most touching moments, but it is certainly not the only theme that Kavtaradze wants to explore. Movement is an intriguing aspect of this film, which draws a correlation between physical activity and the internal machinations of these characters, particularly in how they both use their bodies to communicate. The majority of Slow consists of conversations between the two main characters, their discussions unearthing complex ideas embedded in their past, relating to identity and their own existential quandaries, each conversation serving as a poignant excavation of their past. Their ideas are communicated in a number of ways, both of them using their bodies (rather than the verbal channel) as vessels to articulate ideas that cannot exist through words. Whether it is dance (which is viewed as a universal language – we see both the highly-disciplined world of professional dancing in a studio, and also the joyful liberty of dancing at a wedding or social event) or the use of sign language, the human body is a valuable tool for communicating messages that could not ever be put into words.

If there is a message that Kavtaradze seems to want to implant in the viewer through this film, it would be related to the theme of dance, which is one of the recurring themes throughout the story – unlike the work done by these artists, life simply cannot be choreographed, regardless of how much work we put into planning the future. It is not a series of rhythmic movements that move along to a specific, preordained beat, but rather an unconventional set of moments, each one improvisational and unpredictable. Slow is a film defined by the director’s sincere compassion for this story – she writes a beautiful story that examines the relationship between two people who refuse to allow small obstacles to distract from their deep and sincere love for one another, which comes about organically and with so much grace and nuance throughout this film. The two central performances are absolutely brilliant, with Cicenas and Grineviciute anchoring the film and managing to perfectly encapsulate the journeys of these two characters, finding intricate details in their roles that were only possible when seen through the eyes of a pair of very dedicated actors that were fully committed to uncovering the many secrets lurking beneath the surface of these characters. Beautifully poetic and extremely detailed in how it examines the primordial roots of desire, Slow is a meaningful investigation of the concept of love, carefully pieced together by a director whose command of her craft results in an engaging and heartfelt investigation into the human condition.