All of us have fears – and the trick is be stronger than them. Sangaile (Julija Steponaityte) – whose name means ‘with strength’ – wants to fly planes, but she suffers from vertigo. This self-loathing manifests itself in self-harm, as Sangaile cuts herself with a protractor. And when her parents ask her what she wants to be, she answers, “I want to be a whore.” Summer of Sangaile is the story of how she overcomes her fears, and the girl she meets, the girl who inspires her to excel and grow. Director Alante Kavaite said she wished she could’ve seen this movie when she was a teenager, and I feel the same way. Growing up is hard and painful, and knowing what you want to do is really hard to discern. Sometimes you need a drastic change – I knew I wanted to be a film critic about a week after I moved to Berlin – and when Sangaile meets Auste (Aiste Diržiute), her life slowly starts moving in a different, more fulfilling direction.
Auste is a photographer who likes to make elaborate dresses for her subjects. This is an apt metaphor for their relationship, as Auste is the only person who truly sees Sangaile as she is. In a heartfelt scene, she sees Sangaile’s scars on her arm and doesn’t say anything. The emotion is all there on her face. Soon after a period of being friends, they become lovers, and make love in scenes of remarkable tenderness. The film’s empathetic heart comes from the way they look at each other, touch each other lovingly, and make each other laugh. This is romantic comedy at its finest.
The Summer of Sangaile showcases its own sense of poetry, and is shot and edited with a visual gorgeousness that is both deeply affecting and aesthetically astounding. The director uses many wordless scenes with long and contemplative shots of scenery and faces to express her characters emotions. But it is not merely a cerebral experience, Kavaite also has a quirky way of using strange music and bizarre production design that would come off as twee if it wasn’t so fully realised and charming. At other times the film is swooningly romantic or even harsh and matter-of-fact. Kavaité’s ability to incorporate the two without the film ever seeming uneven shows a remarkable sensitivity at work. I think it works because she truly understands what being a teenager is like, making this film a fine addition to foreign teenage classics such as A Nos Amours, Fucking Amal, and of course, Blue is the Warmest Colour.
“Thank you for being you” Sangaile tells Auste. I extend that sentiment to this wonderful film. If I have one criticism, it’s that its criminally short – only around 88 minutes long. I could have watched these two for several hours. VOTO: 10/10 (http://redmondbacon.co.uk)
Watching this film from the mezzanine of The Rose Wagner, The Summer of Sangaile’s motif of vertigo became immediately palpable for me, as stunt planes performed aerial acrobatics in the opening scene. Set in Lithuania and spoken in Lithuanian, Sangaile (Julija Steponaityté) is a timid, adolescent young woman who marvels at such stunt planes, but she fears heights on account of her vertigo. Austé (Aisté Diržiuté) coaxes her to hang out with her and her friends group; eventually, the two girls become lovers as Austé, an aspiring fashion designer/photographer, threads her way into Sangaile’s heart by making clothes for and taking photos of her. Once Sangaile begins to share her proclivity for wrist-cutting with Austé, she finally opens up her love/fear of stunt-plane flying. Cross-referenced with Sangaile’s overbearing, former-ballerina mother, Sangaile relies on Austé to provide sensual and emotional support for her skyward progression. The Summer of Sangaile is about the two girls’ creation of a sensual, warm world for their relationship, from which Sangaile propels herself out of her depressed tendencies. Vaginal symbols flash throughout the film—roses, seashells, billowy bits of fabric and cut wrists—which generate a solidly feminine aura for a film that, for a large part, successfully evades being subsumed by the male gaze. The cinematography in the lakeside Lithuanian landscape is beautiful, for it weaves through and hooks the film’s narrative to make up for sparse dialogue. The main pitfalls of Summer of Sangaile prove to be relatively flat character development for Sangaile and Austé and an altogether slow-moving second half. Pound for pound, though, it’s a delightful film with stimulating visuals. (Alexander Ortega; SlugMag.com)
Cartwheeling stunt airplanes aren’t the only things that soar and plummet in “The Summer of Sangaile,” a sensuous and sensitive teen romance in which the real roller-coaster ride is that of turbulent adolescent emotions. In her sophomore feature, Paris-based Lithuanian filmmaker Alante Kavaite (2006’s “Ecoute le temps”) returns to her home turf for this heartfelt snapshot of summer love and self-discovery, enhanced by lots of breathtaking scenery and two hugely appealing lead performances by newcomers Julija Steponaityte and Aiste Dirziute. Further festival play, especially in LGBT and emerging filmmaker showcases, seem assured for this winner of the directing prize in Sundance’s international dramatic competition.
Though it seems sure to inspire comparisons with “Blue Is the Warmest Color” by sheer virtue of its focus on a same-sex romance between two young women, “The Summer of Sangaile” otherwise bears little tonal or stylistic resemblance to Abdellatif Kechiche’s controversial Palme d’Or winner, and should go down easier with feminist critics who took issue with the French director’s gaze upon his actresses. Their eyes first meet at a local aerobatics show, where Auste (Dirziute), a canteen worker at the local power plant, sells a raffle ticket to Sangaile (Steponaityte), a tall, slender 17-year-old spending the summer at her family’s lake house. The attraction, like so many seasonal flings in life and in cinema, movies quickly from mild crush to all-consuming infatuation, with the free-spirited Auste very much leading the charge.
Outside her dreary day job, Auste lives in a bohemian world of her own creation, designing her own clothing and, eventually, photographing Sangaile modeling it in a series of stylized poses. In turn, the somewhat shy, withdrawn Sangaile — who dreams of being a stunt pilot but is beset by paralyzing bouts of vertigo, and punishes herself with self-inflicted cuts — begins to emerge from her shell. When the characters finally fall into each other’s arms, Kavaite films the sex discreetly, almost abstractly, as a tumble of long limbs and sun-kissed flesh in ecstatic motion.
Kavaite is a master of shifting, quicksilver moods, and whatever “The Summer of Sangaile” may lack in originality and dramatic urgency, it makes up for in a lightly intoxicating atmosphere. Summer, indeed, is as much the star of the movie as Auste and Sangaile themselves, the long, lazy days stretching out slowly in a way that recalls Eric Rohmer’s summertime films, as the characters look on from rooftops, frolic in the woods, or otherwise surrender themselves to the pull of nature and the season.
Sangaile flirts with a local boy (Laurynas Jurgelis), only to return to Auste’s more comforting embrace. Parents and other representatives of the grown-up world are kept largely at arm’s length, save for a pointed yet tender scene between Sangaile and her mother (Jurate Sodyte), a former dancer, about the rewards derived from taking risks. In the film’s most dynamic sequence, Auste succeeds in convincing Sangaile to go for a test flight in an aerobatic plane, and the resulting whir of images, shown from Sangaile’s alternately exhilarated and vertiginous p.o.v (and inventively shot by d.p. Dominique Colin from a battery of airborne cameras), makes a fine metaphor for the disorienting rush of first love.
At its best, “The Summer of Sangaile” captures the special intensity of those relationships in which everything seems to fade away save for the other person. When they are onscreen together, the gamine Dirziute and the hypnotic, blazingly blue-eyed Steponaityte pull us so deeply into their shared rapture that, indeed, we lose all sense of which way is up. (Scott Foundas, Variety.com)