VOD Review - The Summer of Sangaile

This is Lithuania's official submission to the 88th Academy Awards. It didn't get the nomination, but it premiered in the United States at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival where it won a Directing Award. It premiered internationally at the 2015 Berlinale. It would then go on to win two Silver Crane Awards, which is Lithuania's version of the Oscars. It won the Silver Crane for Best Actress and Best Film.

It's one of seven films, according to my count, to be a contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to be inclusive of the LGBT community or deal with same-sex relations. The contender from the Dominican Republic is the only other, foreign submission to center on a lesbian relationship. Like with the Spanish-language film called Sand Dollars, this film doesn't really handle or comment on homophobia either socially or politically.

Currently, Lithuania is one of the worst countries in Europe in terms of its LGBT rights and culture. Socially and politically, LGBT people in Lithuania have it bad. In 2010, the country had its first, gay pride parade called Baltic Pride, which was met with a lot of resistance, but, at the same time, the country adopted an anti-gay law tantamount to the Russian LGBT Propaganda law also recently adopted.

Written and directed by Alante Kavaite, I'm not sure if this movie's ignorance of its country's homophobia is a good thing or bad thing. On one hand, it makes the film hopeful and aspirational. On the other hand, it makes the film ignorant and slightly unrelatable. The characters live in a somewhat bubble of wealth and privilege where they can afford to be ignorant and self-involved, but the film at times wears its romanticism on its sleeve, and, because it arrives at an emotionally satisfying place, one can forgive it for existing in that bubble.

Julija Steponaityte, the Silver Crane winner, stars as Sangaile, a 17-year-old girl who lives in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and the country's largest city. Yet, her parents have a nearby villa or summer home next to a lake in a beautiful rural area. Sangaile is staying there with her folks while she's off from school. During her time, she likes to ride her bicycle to a close-in-proximity, air field where pilots of small planes do aerobatics.

Aistė Diržiūtė co-stars as Auste, a girl around the same age as Sangaile if not slightly older who works at a coffee shop or 50's-style diner at the air field, or nearby. During an aerobatics show, Auste works the crowd, selling raffle tickets. It's how she meets Sangaile who catches her eye and immediately becomes smitten. As a hobby, or possible vocation, Auste does photography.

Sangaile ends up hanging out with Auste for the summer. They go to the beach or to various places around the area, having fun, dressing up in costumes, swimming, biking and engaging in sex in the tall grasses. Sangaile doesn't really talk about her relationship with Auste, particularly not to her parents.

Initially, there was an aspect of The Graduate (1967) to this movie with Sangaile being a kind of Ben Braddock, but the film ultimately reminded me of Come Undone or Presque rien (2001), which is also about a European teen having a same-sex, summer fling. It's about two boys though and the protagonist did talk about his gay relationship. Come Undone was set in France, which was more gay-friendly even back then. Sangaile's refusal to talk about Auste to anyone could be reflective of some sense of homophobia, socially or otherwise, but, because Kavaite's screenplay doesn't seem to have much dialogue, because hardly anyone speaks, I can't say it's reflective of the homophobia for sure.

The centerpiece moment is a long, sex scene between Sangaile and Auste. It's not as long as the sex scene in Blue is the Warmest Color. It's not as graphic, but it's contrasted with an earlier, sex scene between Sangaile and a boy named Saulius, played by Laurynas Jurgelis, which happened in the back seat of his car near a power station. With the boy, it was more mechanical, almost artificial, but, with the girl, the sex is out in the grass, so Kaivate wants it to feel more natural, more fluid, more enjoyable to truly underscore Sangaile's sexual liberation and her sexual awakening with the girl.

Like with other LGBT films, it's very sensual. Kavaite with her lack of dialogue and insistence to tell the story more visually makes the film more evocative. The cinematography here is very sumptuous indeed, which makes the film beautiful to watch and absorb, but if that's all it was, it would be somewhat forgettable. Yet, it's not.

This movie is also an aviation film. Sangaile going to the air field over and over again isn't random due to its close proximity. She actually has an affinity for it. It's never stated. Kavaite shows this affinity visually and through Steponaityte's performance. The problem is that she suffers from vertigo and a slight acrophobia. Kavaite brilliantly makes the film just as much if not more a journey of overcoming that vertigo than that of sexual awakening, or she perhaps couples the two in a beautiful way.

Most aviation films are about war like Wings (1927) or they're about men preparing for possible war and military service like Top Gun (1986). Most aviation films are not simply about the joy or recreation of flying in a plane, the exceptions being Cloud Dancer (1980) and The Aviator (2004), and most aren't from a female perspective or revolve around a female protagonist, the exception being Amelia (2009).

Kavaite captures the beauty and the thrill of the tiny planes doing aerobatics. Whether inside the cockpit or just beside peering at it, flying is scary and exciting as seen through Kavaite's camera. But, it's not just flying. It's also being on high as atop a roof or a tree. Kavaite almost captures the sensual pleasures in just feeling and breathing the sky above. This film is wondrous.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains intense sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.

Available on DVD / VOD as of Feb. 23.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.


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