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SUNDANCE 2023 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Marija Kavtaradze • Director of Slow

“My goal was to tell a love story”


- The Lithuanian filmmaker lets the bodies do the talking in her touching romance involving a contemporary dancer and a sign-language interpreter

Marija Kavtaradze  • Director of Slow

You may think that you know the story: two people meet, and they become fascinated with each other. So far, so good. But contemporary dancer Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) is stunned to find out that Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas), a sign-language interpreter, is asexual. They still decide to pursue a relationship, however, sharing love, intimacy and lame jokes about phone cords. We talked to director Marija Kavtaradze about her Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Competition entry Slow [+see also:
film review
interview: Marija Kavtaradze
film profile

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Cineuropa: One of your characters is asexual, which is something he states at the very beginning. But Slow isn’t about that, really; it’s a love story, with a new couple figuring things out.
Marija Kavtaradze:
Exactly, and I am happy you felt that. That was my goal: to tell a love story. It’s important that he is asexual, and I tried to be respectful of that. I really did my research. Still, I focus on that relationship in the end. But by time I’d finished writing the script, I realised it wasn’t about sex; it’s about other issues they have.

At first, when I was talking about this idea, many would go: “He is asexual? This will never work.” But he still wants romance! I realised that people like Dovydas have to explain themselves all the time. I can only imagine how annoying it must feel, so what I wanted to do in the film was not to question him, ever. He knows who he is – that’s why he says it so early, and I like him for that. This way, she can make her own decision.

And yet it’s still a film about bodies – dance, movement, touch. They both express so much this way.
Dance is her language. For him, it’s easier to express himself in sign language sometimes. I actually think he is at his most vulnerable when he is translating love songs. One of them marks the start of the second part of the film, in a way. You understand that some time has passed, although we don’t know how much. But also, I really, really love this song. It’s crazy how romantic it is. The way he translates it, it’s just so precise. These translators need to express the rhythm, the mood, the tone.

It’s a dance again.
Yes! I wanted to find a way to look at bodies that wouldn’t be too sexual, but to still feel their presence.

I guess you had to make sure that despite everything, despite him feeling no desire at all, people would still believe there was something between them. You needed a palpable chemistry. How long did it take you to get them to that point?
Greta was the first person I cast, and when we met Kęstutis, we all had such a good time during casting. I knew there would be chemistry between them, but I also knew it would need to be a bit different. Romantic, but at the same time friendly, because they have this special connection that goes beyond pure sexuality. What helped us the most was that we had time: I cast them two years before we started shooting. We have been working together so closely, and they make this film special, I think. They allowed themselves to be so open, so vulnerable, even though it can be so embarrassing – even just looking at someone else with all these emotions.

You suggest that, for example, because of her upbringing, she might have some body issues. But there is something very joyful about the way she approaches sex.
She is not very sure of herself. She says she doesn’t want a relationship, but then falls for him, for example. But I get annoyed when I see too many of these “desperate female characters” who are either punished for wanting things or forced to find a husband. These are the only two possible outcomes we tend to see, and I wanted to give her something else – for example, a random encounter that, as you can sense, will be fun for her. She is enjoying herself.

With love stories, everything tends to be so damned pretty: the characters, their quirky jobs, their flats. Did you always want to approach their life more honestly?
Well, I do have a sign-language interpreter and a dancer here – these are also quite interesting jobs [laughs]. But yes, I wanted things to feel natural. The film’s set in Vilnius, and I was able to imagine where they would live and how they would dress, or how much they would be able to spend on rent. It was important not to overdo it. I had to believe these were real people, living in real places. Although I have to admit that shooting it on 16 mm helped us romanticise the story a bit. It just added this nostalgic feeling.

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