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‘Slow’ Review: We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off

“Slow,” a relationship drama from Lithuania with a delicate touch, offers an understanding of intimacy that is rare in romance movies.

Elena (Greta Grineviciute), a contemporary dancer, meets Dovydas (Kestutis Cicenas), a sign language interpreter, at a class for deaf adolescents — she teaches the steps and he translates her instructions for the students. After the first session, the two 30-somethings begin a modest flirtation that inches toward the physical, but Dovydas pulls out a wild card when Elena invites him to her room: He is asexual.

The second feature by Marija Kavtaradze, “Slow” takes this difference as its point of departure. What does a relationship look like when you factor out the sex? It’s clear that Elena has a hard time accepting Dovydas as he is, a frustration that links back to her childhood self-esteem issues.

The couple’s journey is predictably bumpy, in part because the film aligns too consistently with Elena’s normative outlook. Dovydas’s sexuality baffles her, and Kavtaradze struggles to justify why the couple makes sense together despite this friction. Scenes meant to illustrate their special chemistry seem plucked out of a run-of-the-mill indie movie (an awkward-but-cute dance; in another scene, eyes locked from across the bar).

Grineviciute and Cicenas, however, give depth to a story that becomes stuck on the sorrows of the couple’s discrepancies. Dovydas alternates between sheepish and resolute, making his bouts of jealousy feel organic and vulnerable; Elena — we see in fierce, breathy interludes of her dance rehearsals — wields her physicality and thwarted desires as extensions of her personality.

Throughout the film, we see Dovydas enthusiastically performing a kind of sign language karaoke against a vivid blue backdrop; his facial expressions are like a lovesick balladeer. The film makes too little of this intuitive connection between lovers, both adept, in their own ways, at communicating passion by other means.

Slow
Not rated. In Lithuanian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. In theaters.

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