Dreamlike and deeply sensual, The Summer of Sangaile relies primarily on evocative imagery to relate its story of first love and self-discovery. The film opens at an air show with 17-year-old Sangaile (Julija Steponaityte) watching in fearful longing as stunt planes perform vertical climbs, loops, and dangerous plunging dives. Auste (Aiste Dirziute) works the show distributing raffle tickets for a chance to experience an acrobatic flight with one of the pilots. She is immediately attracted to the enigmatic Sangaile, pushing a ticket into her hand and making sure it is the winning number. When Sangaile refuses the prize, a baffled Auste extends an invitation to meet.

Sangaile, who suffers from vertigo and has a fear of heights, is staying with her parents at their summer villa, a soaring triangular construction built into the side of a wooded hill. (It seems an unlikely coincidence that Sangaile has been relegated to the highest loft, with one wall of her spartan bedroom an open railing.) Here she resides in her own private purgatory of self-recrimination, cutting herself as punishment for her weakness.

Sangaile’s constant longing for something that is beyond her reach is palpable. To escape the loneliness and oppressive atmosphere of her uncommunicative parents, she befriends Auste. The two teens meet at Auste’s high-rise apartment complex where, ironically, she lives on the uppermost floor. Auste’s outgoing personality is reflected in the flamboyance of her bedroom. She delights in designing outrageous clothes and photographing her models in equally outrageous poses. She immediately turns Sangaile into the subject of her creations.

Despite her exuberant nature, Auste intuits Sangaile’s fragility. Her patience and sensitivity gradually coaxes Sangaile out of her shell, emboldening her to open up and step outside of the fears that have restrained her. Their relationship grows naturally into a sexual one. Their encounters are beautifully and tastefully filmed, the lack of explicitness heightening the eroticism. And after a disastrous experience threatens to destroy the relationship,  Sangaile becomes determined to face her fears alone and on her own terms.

Lithuanian writer/director Alante Kavaite keeps the dialog to a minimum, instead building her film upon a series of visually and sensually rich scenarios that turn mundane locations and everyday activities into places and moments of visceral magic. The hum of electric generators is the background audio for a meaningless sexual encounter. A lake warmed by the waste water from the local power plant offers the perfect secluded beach for a romantic interlude. An overgrown field transforms into a secret garden of passion. Steponaityte and Dirziute are well suited to their roles, both in appearance and character; their freshness and youth lend credibility to every scene, and their natural beauty adds to the film’s visual palette.

Because of the sexual nature of the relationship between the two girls, it will be tempting to label this as an LGBT film, but that would be a mistake. Kavaite succeeds in portraying such a natural progression and purity to the love between the two that it transcends gender.

Written and Directed by Alante Kavaite
Produced by Zivile Gallego and Antoine Simkine
Released by Strand Releasing
Lithuanian with English subtitles
Lithuania/France/Netherlands. 86 min. Not rated
With Julija Steponaityte, Aiste Dirziute, Jurate Sodyte, Martynas Budraitis, Laurynas Jurgelis, Nele Savicenko, and Inga Salkauskaite