It is likely, as mainstream thinking goes, our perception of asexuality is rather binary and inaccurate. In a world fixated on sex and sexual desire, it is unfathomable to think of its absence; an internal drive deemed so intrinsic to our being. In a rare offering by Lithuanian director Marija Kavtaradze, Slow challenges this ignorance, suggesting that asexuality isn’t a complete lack of sexual desire, but gradations of it which fluctuate over time.
Asexual portrayals are almost non-existent in film, admittedly an impossible disposition to showcase unless specifically stated. One example comes to mind, the animation character of Todd Shavez of Bojack Horseman fame, where after much soul-searching the stoner slacker concludes to being asexual. In her second feature, Kavtaradze goes beyond just depiction, deliberating on the intricacies of a relationship between Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas) an asexual man and Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) – both exceptional performances – a typically sexually straight woman.
An incredibly subtle and stylish endeavour, Slow is predominantly centred around Elena and the love of her profession as a dancer, the impetus for meeting Dovydas, a sign language interpreter, requiring his services to teach a dance class of deaf teenagers. Elena is an alluring figure, emotionally intelligent, free-spirited with a strong sense of self. Pursuing a career in dance despite her mother’s brutal childhood criticisms of her body; a body which now in adulthood she loves and nurtures, one which appeals to many men. The film’s opening sex scene has a lover she just met requesting she tells him she loves him so he can get hard. She contemplates at first how insincere her words will be, but then utters the words anyway. A signifier of what is to unfold; the correlated entanglements of sex and feeling.
Dovydas is charming, tall, beardy handsome, endearingly goofy. There appears to be an instant mutual attraction between the two, with an ease in conversation and a chemistry palatable to the viewer, it signals to something more substantial. Prompting him to disclose his asexuality early on, temporarily putting the brakes, only for their strong connection to bring them back together. There are attempts at sexual intimacy with Dovydas wanting to, but failing to consummate, where overthinking proves to be a mood killer. As the relationship develops despite their emotional closeness, their physical dissimilarities become more apparent. Elena is having to compromise her own physical desires, while Dovydas is plagued by feelings of inadequacy. A suggestion for other sexual partners, predominantly for the sake of Elena, is marred by jealousy and for it all reach a somewhat dead-end.
Kavtaradze’s soft and understated approach paints a tender and intimate portrait of this coupling. There is a refusal to judge, refraining from rendering either Elena and Dovydas as victims nor as perpetrators, but more as individuals naturally reacting to the peculiarity of their situation. And this is where the crux of the story lies, not so much in the predictable outcome, but its the recounting of this ever-evolving relationship dynamics which prove most interesting. Whilst remaining sensitive to Dovydas’ sexuality, Kavtaradze is unafraid to ask the big question, which reverberate for many, even outside the remit of asexuality. What does happen to love when the emotional and the physical simply do not coalesce?
Slow premiered in the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. Also showing at REC, Tarragona International Film Festival.