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Review: Alanté Kavaïté’s ‘The Summer of Sangaile’

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Youth is tumultuous. Our teenage years are full of surging hormones, new emotions and desires, and throwing young love into the mix only makes things more complicated. It’s in these awkward, horrifying stages of human life that Alanté Kavaïté’s The Summer of Sangaile lives, introducing us to two characters trying to find themselves — personally, romantically and sexually.

After a chance encounter at an air show, the waifish, sullen Sangaile (Julia Steponaityte) meets the effervescent Auste (Aiste Dirziute) and forms a slow-warming friendship that soon becomes something more. Sangaile wants nothing more than to fly, but vertigo prevents her from enjoying the experience. However, Auste pushes her to overcome her fears in order to do what she loves. Along the way, we’re treated to the ups and down of teenage love, complete with break ups, makeups and eventually some sense of peace.

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Director Kavaïté often likes to keep the camera close to her characters, and in the process, she allows the audience to form a deeper connection to them. In one scene, a boy comments on the adorableness of Sangaile’s ears, to which we’re well aware, as the camera has spent a healthy amount of time on them. Throughout the film, we get shots of shoulders, stomachs, ears and various other body parts, a technique used best in the first love scene between the two leads. Instead of framing their whole bodies or faces, Kavaïté offers quick shots of their eyes, their legs, their hands, their bellies — all frantically cut to make the experience as exhilarating for the audience as it is for our young protagonists. As the scene goes on, the cuts become more tantalizing, creating a scene that, by its end, leaves the audience as exhausted as the characters. Incidentally, a late scene also features tight shots of the girls cutting themselves, which allows one to feel their pain and perhaps even their pleasure.

One of the more impressive parts of The Summer of Sangaile is how the relationship grows so organically. The two leads aren’t on each other like rabbits from the start, but instead, they begin as distant friends and then grow — with coy looks and shy smiles — into sexual partners. This gives their love scenes power and meaning, and because the viewer first experiences the drumroll, the final cymbal crashes with that much more force.

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With so much of the film growing organically from the characters, the moments of inauthenticity feel that much more out of place. In particular, much of the late conflict feels contrived in order to move the plot forward. Though one may remember the swirling mass of emotions from teenage years, audiences are sure to question the motivations of the film’s heroine on a few occasions, as things are finished off a bit too easily by film’s end.

There’s a placid beauty to The Summer of Sangaile that’s enthralling. Helping to enfold one into the warm blanket are gorgeous aerial shots of pristine lakes, passionate sex scenes that excite while never feeling lurid, and slow shots of sun-dappled bare, even as the film’s darker and rough edges come to the fore. Not without its flaws, The Summer of Sangaile is a piece of breezy, sumptuous Sunday-afternoon enjoyment for those that don’t mind taking the time to watch the scenery and to allow the story of gentle teenage love to wash over.

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