Review: ‘The Summer of Sangaile’s’ story of teen love gets lost in delicate package

Julija Steponaityte, left, and Aiste Dirziute in the movie "The Summer of Sangaile."

Julija Steponaityte, left, and Aiste Dirziute in the movie “The Summer of Sangaile.”

(Strand Releasing)

The awakening of teen love is cast in a luscious, almost magical light in “The Summer of Sangaile,” a coming-of-age drama whose delicate beauty wears thin.

Set in the Lithuanian countryside and abounding in art-designed moments, the second feature by writer-director Alanté Kavaïté suggests the intense moods of adolescence through striking imagery, but its pointedly poetic sheen overpowers the story.

The 17-year-old girls at the film’s center meet at an air show, where working-class beauty Auste (Aiste Dirziute) is instantly attracted to the title character (Julija Steponaityte). They couldn’t be more different. Auste is vivacious and creative, a clothing designer and photographer. Sullen city girl Sangaile, who’s summering with her unhappy parents in their hillside villa, deals with her unarticulated despair by cutting herself — an act that receives the same artful framing as everything else in the movie.

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The actresses convey a persuasive connection in the girls’ friendship and romance, even as Kavaïté insists on constructing sequences of sensuous fantasy bordering on the precious. Tutus strung with lights, for instance, figure in a lovemaking session under the stars.

One of the more effective elements of Dominique Colin’s sumptuous cinematography is her use of overhead shots, crucial to the theme of flight. The life-loving Auste repeatedly urges Sangaile to pursue her enchantment with stunt flying despite her fear of heights. Dirziute’s performance, more than Steponaityte’s broody turn, taps into the importance of being truly seen and encouraged. Distractingly lovely to look at, the film can’t make Sangaile’s struggles or triumphs matter. Its soaring conclusion feels anticlimactic, the story drifting off into air.


“The Summer of Sangaile”

MPAA Ratings: In Lithuanian with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood.