THE TRIBE Review | TIFF 2014

     September 14, 2014

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After an award-winning premiere at Cannes, The Tribe arrived at this year’s TIFF with a great deal of expectation.  Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s debut feature sports the attention-grabbing premise of being an entirely silent film (aside from ambient noise) played out exclusively by deaf and mute non-actors.  It’s unlike any film you’ve ever seen because it’s unlike any movie that’s ever been made.  Yet, Slaboshpytskiy wisely mixes in enough familiar elements to make his story easy to follow, while piling on genuinely disturbing images on the way to an unforgettably harsh climax.  The Tribe is a difficult film, there’s not denying that.  However, there’s also no denying that it’s a brilliant one as well.  Hit the jump for the details.

The movie takes place at an unnamed Ukrainian school for the deaf.  The building itself resembles a rotted out wasteland and what goes on inside isn’t much more pleasant.  Things start off innocently enough as a new teenager (Grigoriy Fesenko) arrives at the school and slowly attempts to ingratiate himself to his new surroundings.  Almost instantly he finds himself hooking up with the hooligans, who put him through a number of booze, violence, and vomit related initiation tactics to join their gang.  From there we see all of the less than horrible hobbies the gang has, from robbing people on trains to pimping out to of their female students to truckers.  An accident causes Fesenko to rise through the ranks and further accidents to lead to almost unspeakable tragedy.  It’s a story that Slaboshpytskiy loads with graphic images that are difficult to watch and yet you must because there’s no other option for input from this silent, scoreless movie.

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As unique a film as The Tribe truly is, it is far from without precedent.  Remove the silence and Slaboshpytskiy has made a new version of Larry Clarke‘s Kids.  It’s another exploration of how horrible, violent, and sexual those pesky teens get when behind closed doors, just one from a radically different world.  Yet, that familiarity is vastly important in the filmmaker puling off this experiment.  There are no subtitles in the film and no second or even tertiary character to offer speech or translation.  It’s a story that you have to suck in exclusively through body language, so a little familiarity goes a long way.  Slaboshpytskiy shoots his film exclusively in long, unbroken steadycam shots like Alan Clarke (Elephant, but not that one) or Gus Van Sant (Elephant, yes that one).  It’s a style that looks impressive and works wonders at building tension or deepening the impact of shocking sequences and Slaboshpytskiy takes full advantage of those techniques.  Yet, there’s also a more specific and important use for this style. Since the actors communicate everything through signs and body language, it’s the only way to see their entire expression at any time and a pretty ingenious combination of practical requirements and style.

The young performers are all quite impressive despite no experience.  It’s unclear how involved Slaboshpytskiy allowed them to be in the writing, but they all give off pained naturalistic performances that clearly struck close to home.  It’s amazing how many various tones that Slaboshpytskiy and his actors get out of so little.  Humor, warmth, depression, elation, horror, it’s all there and deeply affecting.  Make no mistake though, there’s nothing easy about The Tribe and the ultimate impact is one of shock and awe.

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There were moments that made the audience gasp at the screening that I attended and that reaction was entirely justified.  Slaboshpytskiy loads the screen with poignantly harsh imagery that is impossible to shake off and houses it within a filmmaking style that requires you to look at those images long and hard.  It’s a movie that will leave viewers stumbling from the screen in a shattered daze and a remarkable achievement.  Technically and emotionally there’s no other cinematic experience quite like this and it demands to be seen by any adventurous filmgoer.  That it is only Slaboshpytskiy’s first film makes the accomplishment all the more impressive and it will be exciting to see where his career could possibly go from here.  The Tribe will be tough to top, but anyone with an imagination who could deliver something this original certainly has a fair shot at pulling it off.

Grade: A

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