#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.
Planes glide majestically overhead as spectators look to the skies in awe. They soar, weave, dance and dive, provoking gasps of shock and amazement from the audience below. We are at an air show, and it’s here where we meet the eponymous Sangailė (Julija Steponaityte), an introverted 17-year-old who’s spending the summer at her family’s luxury lake house. As she gazes at the wondrous flying machines, she is approached by Austė (Aistė Diržiūtė) offering raffle tickets. She hesitantly takes one and subsequently wins, but rather than claiming her prize, an opportunity fly with a stunt pilot, she just steadily makes her way home. Austė runs after her, and invites the sullen figure to visit her at the canteen where she works. Sangailė agrees to do so, and from there, sparks fly.
The Summer of Sangailė is the long-awaited second feature by Lithuanian director Alantė Kavaitė after Fissures in 2006. It’s a picture that is supremely shot with audaciousness and an artistic grace, which manages to beautifully capture the radiant colour of summer, and the unbounded optimism that comes with it. The imagery will often appear impressionistic, almost surreal, with little sound to accompany them except for the occasional soothing score provided by Jean-Benoît Dunckel. There is, of course, an unavoidable dangerous lure when it comes to filming lesbian relationships, especially between two attractive young ladies, but everything from the intimate close-ups to the sensual sex scenes is tastefully presented.
The two central characters are near polar opposites from one another, and it’s to the director’s credit that we completely believe them as a couple. Austė is exotic, bohemian, creative, with a passion for photography and dressmaking. Sangailė is quiet, reserved. She lacks direction and her arms shows evidence of bodily self-harm. As their relationship develops from innocent curiosity to something more amorous, Sangailė slowly comes out of her shell, becoming confident and even embracing the opportunity to fly in a stunt plane despite her crippling vertigo. This gradual change in character is perhaps clichéd, but it’s effective and blissfully romantic.
Films depicting blossoming teen sexuality and fleeting attraction (even between same-sex couples) are far from original. The Summer of Sangailė could’ve easily been called “My Lithuanian Summer of Love”; such is the similarity between this and the 2004 Pawel Pawlikowski film with Emily Blunt. But, even if this treads familiar territory, simmering romantic dramas like this are more than welcome when the story is as elegantly composed and as exquisitely photographed as this.