Emily MaskellI10.27.2023
Marija Kavtaradze Interview – Director of ‘Slow’
"When I think about asexuality, it’s not a problem or conflict."

Marija Kavtaradze’s Slow (Tu man nieko neprimeni) is a deeply romantic Lithuanian drama punctuated by burgeoning chemistry between its actors and the crackle of 16mm film. Charting the romance of contemporary dancer Elena (Greta Grineviciute) and sign language interpreter Dovydas (Kestutis Cicenas), Kavtaradze’s film lingers in quiet moments where it is bodies that communicate, not words. But their desire is refashioned in when one half of the couple reveals they are asexual. Under Kavtaradze’s attentive lens, they must navigate how love looks to them individually and in their relationship.

In addition to garnering praise on the festival circuit, Slow has cemented its appeal as Lithuania’s Academy Award submission. “I know more people will see it or hear about it, so it’s very nice,” Kavtaradze shared with Projektor about the film’s recent selection. The director also discussed crafting Slow’s visual language and how filming bodies became a mode of storytelling.

Projektor: Slow feels like a love story that features asexuality, rather than an asexual love story. Why did you want to explore romance this way?

Marija Kavtaradze: I was interested in asexuality, but at the same time I’m not hiding that I’m not a part of the community. I did research and talked to people but my perspective is still from the outside, so I wanted to know Dovydas as much as possible. When I think about asexuality, it’s not a problem or conflict. For me, this film is about different needs, and many couples have recurring arguments about something that isn’t changeable. I wanted to not make their sexualities the most important thing. There are so many things in their relationship that also make them struggle.

It’s a deeply romantic film resting on the great chemistry between your leads. How did you go about casting them and crafting their intimacy?

I had a script in the early stages when I told my producer that now’s the time for casting—it’ll be easier for me to go forward with the screenplay if I knew [the actors]. I had Greta Grineviciute in mind and I really wanted to work with her. For Dovydas, I didn’t have a vision. We met with a lot of different guys, but with Kestutis Cicenas I felt a spark.

It’s interesting because if I was looking for a couple where there was no asexuality, I would be looking for a different kind of chemistry. Here, I’m looking for chemistry that cannot be too sexual. There would be moments in our rehearsals where I’d feel it was too flirty. [Flirting], in general, is sexual—you cannot take it away. With them, I felt this playfulness, some kind of friendship, but when they look longingly, it’s still a romance. It also helped that they had two years to read my different drafts, and we didn’t have to hurry. They could carry these characters inside of their minds for some time.

Oftentimes filmmakers say shooting is a rush. Maybe Slow’s chemistry works so well because it was forged over real-time.

I think so. There are tricks to make chemistry and there are some shots that would probably always work. But for this, [Elena] tells her friends: “I have this feeling that I’ve known him for a long time.” It’s more than an attraction, it’s safety. Even the way I wrote it, I didn’t want to explain why they fell in love. I got comments that I should explain why they like each other but the magic would be gone. There had to be something unexplainable.

Dovydas delivers a monologue about relationships and sexuality. It’s a scene that’s stayed in my mind—how did you go about writing it?

No one has asked me about this scene! It’s always fun to write something like that. He’s drunk, and I quit drinking years ago, so while writing I was trying to get into that space where you deconstruct the whole of society. The monologue was very important to me. It’s one of the few moments where there was improvisation. I was thinking I needed more of him thinking about masculinity, and there’s a line: “What does it mean to be a man?” The translation in my language sounds more like: “Who is this man in general?” I talked with the actors and crafted this while rehearsing.

The film becomes like a body; we don’t want to see perfect bodies and film will never be perfect.

The film texture also heightens Slow’s romanticism. Why did you shoot on 16mm film?

I started writing and I knew it had to be shot on film; it’s so romantic and there’s a really strong sense of nostalgia. I had the feeling with this film that it’s this love story that you tell to someone else after some time and it still matters a lot but there’s a sense of memory there. Even the way we edited it, there’s a lot of freedom. That was my key: we are telling a story from a nostalgic point of view and 16mm is good for that.

[Shooting on 16mm] made even more sense when I was thinking about bodies and how I wanted to see the real colour and texture of skin. The film becomes like a body; we don’t want to see perfect bodies and film will never be perfect. You can clean it, but there will always be little noises and imperfections.

How did you develop this distinctive visual language Slow possesses, with Elena’s dancing and Dovydas’ signing?

As the DOP [Laurynas Bareiša] said, we should always look for bodies in the image as if they’re telling a story. It’s not just what [characters] do or say, but also their positions. We looked for moments of how bodies and skin can add additional layers. There are these small details that make imperfections: when she’s [having] a massage and we see the mark of her bra, or she’s more tanned while he’s pretty pale.

Did you have any references for Slow, narrative or aesthetic wise?

One of my favourite romantic films is Weekend by Andrew Haigh. I was inspired by how real it is; there’s nothing you don’t need, it’s so pure. It’s masterful. Preparing for this film, I would watch scenes to get inspired. Sally Rooney’s Normal People inspired me—not the TV show, but the book. I read it while writing the script and there was some feeling in there. I wanted my visuals to look the way that Sally Rooney’s words feel.

Also, the Before trilogy. In the beginning, I wanted the same feeling, and when you want to shoot characters walking and talking you go to Linklater for inspiration. I tried to write Slow as a rom-com but I gave up because it’s a relationship drama. I was fighting for more than a year, saying, “It’s not a relationship drama,” but I had to tell myself to get over it!

What made you realise that change?

There’s this good quote about rom-coms, that we never see real intimacy or sex [in them] because it’s too heavy, you always cut to after. Intimacy ruins the lightness of rom-coms. Also, I realized I’m most interested in what happens when they get together. If I were to do a rom-com it would have to end when they become a couple, but I’m interested in how they will be together.

Curated by humans, not algorithms.


© 2024 A Good Movie to Watch. Altona Studio, LLC, all rights reserved.