Writer-director Alanté Kavaité’s Summer of Sangaile relates the story of a teenage love affair in the uncanniest of ways, beginning with the lovers’ first encounter at a summer aeronautical show, the perfect allegorical setup for the freedoms, anxieties, and fatal risks inherent to romance. Kavaité rejects the literality of words in favor of a visual language that evokes, rather than recounts, the romance between Austé (Aisté Dirziute) and Sangaile (Julija Steponaityte). The film is a string of softly weaved pictorial metaphors steeped in reverie. In the absence of words, it’s the carefully composed mise-en-scène and the bodies of the characters themselves that bear the brunt of their repressed screams. Instead of love letters, they share symptoms, such as the Sangaile’s fondness for cutting herself, which Austé receives as a kind of contagious gift, a pact, or an irresistible invitation.
It’s as if a crater separates the girls from the adult world. The alienation and introspection of youth are evident in the sparseness of the dialogue, which has a wounding effect of its own. When a family friend asks Sangaile at a party what she’ll do with her life, she replies, “Maybe I’ll be a whore.” The room responds with stillness. In another scene, Austé sits across from her mother in the kitchen, watching her rolling dough, and asks her why is it that she has to dip the dough in both salt and sugar. Here again, the complexities of being a girl are invisible to those who don’t get to touch her.
Kavaité links feminine bliss to interiority and quietness, as if understanding that Austé and Sangaile can’t completely shake off the demand to be gracious and docile even as they try to free themselves from such a demand. It’s refreshing to see the film’s dreamy cinematography in play not in the name of aesthetic acrobatics, but as unapologetic replacement of the banality of spoken language. The girl’s muteness is ultimately a type of recoiled laughter, a refusal to engage. It’s as if the film’s visuals were absorbed with a similar refusal to be read clearly. In one lovely scene, Sangaile and Austé make love in a realistic bedroom enveloped by the surreal flickering of red lights. We’re no longer in a bedroom, or in Lithuania, and the bodies before us are no longer fleshy, but either canvases or screens.
Summer of Sangaile’s aesthetics are so intimately aligned with its concepts that it avoids redundancy completely. The dramatization of a dream has none of the visual clichés of a dream sequence, as when a naked female body floats in a lake, in ecstasy, or when Sangaile stares at animals and critters and the audiences is never sure if the dead ants, worms, and lobsters are the actual objects of her gaze or their symbolic rendition. The film, then, turns poetic digressions into a self-sufficient cinematic method.