The 2023 Sundance Film Festival saw the premiere of one of the most unique romance dramas ever made. Directed by Marija Kavtaradze, Slow follows an interpreter named Dovydas and a dancer named Elena who fall in love and must navigate Dovydas’ asexuality. Featuring oustanding chemistry between its lead actors and a fresh perspective on intimacy, the film offers much food for thought. Awards Radar was therefore honored to speak with Kavtaradze about her motivations behind making the film and depicting asexuality on screen.
Shane Slater: What was the inspiration behind this story?
Marija Kavtaradze: Actually a few things. First of all, I was reading about asexuality. And that really interested me. And I also had in my mind these two characters. The dancer and the interpreter. And then they kind of came together into the same story. So I would say that I was mostly interested in what really makes intimacy. And I thought that if I go with these characters, and if I write the screenplay, then it will be challenging for me. So I wanted to go on this journey with with the characters.
SS: I found it interesting that you chose the male partner to be asexual, because we often think of men as being more sexual than women. Was there any specific reason behind that choice?
MK: It’s exactly the reason that you mentioned. I think, in some ways, it would be much easier for us to accept a female character who is asexual. And in this way, I think even for the characters, it’s harder. Because they’re still trying to be normal and very traditional, even though they at the same time want to be open and not really put themselves in any categories of how relationships should look. So it was important for me that the male is asexual, because I knew that it would be more triggering.
SS: I also love that you chose for him to be an interpreter and you’ve incorporated the deaf elements and characters without over emphasizing it. What were some of the ideas behind making him an interpreter for this role?
MK: I’m so happy that you see this, that it felt really natural and normal. Because that’s what I really want. It’s the same for her with dance. It’s just her job. It’s not to romanticize him. It’s just, there are deaf people in the world. So they’re here, but the story is not about them, really.
But the sign language came from, first of all, it’s just really beautiful to me. In some ways, it’s very straightforward. And in some ways, very poetic and visual. And I think I liked that she has her language in dancing and he has his language in sign language. But then when it comes to the simple language of communication, it’s harder for them to just talk. And also for his character, I will say that sign language is where he feels even more open. And when we see him being vulnerable – because he is usually quite self-contained – and when he has to translate songs, he has to be expressive. It’s a part of the job. And I really liked to see his sense of art and this vulnerability. And the songs are super romantic so it goes well with the film.
SS: I really love the strong sense of intimate intimacy in the film. What were some of the stylistic approaches you used to create that intimacy?
MK: I think one thing that was important in the production was that there wouldn’t be too many people. We had an intimacy coordinator who also took care of that. I liked closing the room and feeling close to the actors.
And also, the actors and the choreography that we made with the intimacy coordinator. Maybe it comes also from the time, because we had enough time to rehearse and to prepare. So we didn’t really have to think too much about the technicalities. We knew how not to be too awkward. And I think that when we made the scenes, we were not thinking, “Okay, now we’re being sexy.” We were just approaching them as any scene. Of course, like I said, with less people and taking more care of the actors.
SS: You touched on those sex scenes and there’s this strong emotional connection that you really feel between them. But the sexual attraction is uneven. How did you approach directing the sex scenes? Was there any improvisation or was the choreography very specific?
MK: Choreography is a very good word for this. And it’s really important. And I like this rule that, because we have intimacy coordinator, it’s important not to improvise. So when we rehearse the sex scenes, if we want to change something, we have to change it at least about 24 hours or even more before the shooting. Because it’s important to not ask five minutes before, “Oh, you know what? Take off more clothes.” Because then you don’t feel the freedom always to say “No, I’m not comfortable.” So I like this rule, and I followed it so that in these scenes, it’s not improvised.
SS: There’s a lot of discussion about sex becoming more sanitized in mainstream Hollywood films. How does this film fit into the traditions of portraying sexuality in Lithuanian cinema?
MK: I would say it’s a bit different, because in general, we do not have a lot of sex scenes in Lithuania. We do not have a lot of sexual topics at all. I mean, there are some films and very open films that are interesting. But if we look at it as a whole, I even have this dark joke that it sometimes feels like there’s more violence and sexual violence than actual sex. Which I think is bad.
So I really wanted to show it naturally, so that we would totally believe that this is how it would happen. There’s not a lot of nudity, but that also came from thinking it felt natural that in the scene we don’t really need to see it. I myself love when I see some scenes that are very real and raw. There is an amazing sex scene in the TV show I May Destroy You, where the character has a period. It’s so strong, and I remember watching it and I know that I never seen anything like that on screen. It’s so weird that you can still be so surprised.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]