A Sensual Ride

in 31st Warsaw Film Festival

by Aleksander Huser

Telling the story of a teenager who finds her much needed inner strength as she falls in love during an eventful summer at her parents’ rural vacation house, The Summer of Sangaile (Sangailes vasara, screened in Competition 1-2 at the 31st Warsaw Film Festival) resonates with a long tradition of youth-oriented films. However, as for generations past, so now, these coming of age-stories do not seem to lose relevance. Moreover, the second feature of the Paris-based Lithuanian writer-director Atlanté Kavaïté also offers a fresh take on a familiar subject matter, not least through her beautiful and skilful direction.

Sangaile, the eponymous protagonist, is a 17 year old Lithuanian girl who does not really dare to strike on her own, and yet she dreams of flying, in a quite literal sense. The film begins with scenes from an aeronautical show, taking place in a sleepy summer town, after which Sangaile wins a ride with the stunt pilot, but turns down the offer as she is terrified of heights. A fear, which the young heroine obviously must overcome if she is ever to realise her dream of becoming a pilot.

At the same aerobatic show, the rather introverted Sangaile meets the free-spirited, creative and confident Auste, who invites her to hang out with other local peers, bringing a feeling of adventure to the lazy summer days. Soon the two girls become friends, and gradually, they become more than that.

The central love affair between two young women might make viewer think of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adéle – Chapitres 1 & 2), but the styles of these two films are remarkably different. Although both are rooted in a strong sense of realism, The Summer of Sangaile is much more dreamlike and atmospheric than Blue is the Warmest Colour. And where Kechiche’s film has its share of infamously explicit sex scenes, Kavaïtéi is far more discreet in her approach, yet lending her film an overarching layer of sensuality. This is even reflected in the way The Summer of Sangaile captures impressively the sensory experiences of spending warm summer days in the countryside, with beautiful cinematography by Dominique Colin.

Early in the film we are also told that Sangaile is disturbingly prone to self-hurting and tends to cut her arms when alone. And while for the most part of the film her parents seem somewhat distant, The Summer of Sangaile avoids the cliché of turning their perceived coldness or neglect into the sole underlying reason for their daughter’s affliction. Thus, instead of making the sure bet on a generational stand off, resulting in yelling and fighting, the director describes the daughter-parents relationship with both nuance and subtlety. One of the finest moments in the film is when Sangaile finds inspiration in her mother to finally make the most decisive step during this fateful summer. Towards the air, that is.

Important part for the overall effect of the film is played by its captivating music, composed by Jean-Banoît Dunckel, member of the famous French group Air. His music is fittingly accompanied by atmospheric, electronic pop-score – featuring, among others, Norwegian artist Susanne Sundfør.

Even though The Summer of Sangaile has a rather simple plot, it never feels shallow. This is partly because of the richness and authenticity of the characters and the way the actors portray them, and partly because of the director’s meticulous attention to detail in tone and cinematic poetry. The Summer of Sangaile is indeed an uplifting and thoroughly sensual experience.

Edited by Christina Stojanova