Beautiful and Terrifying, ‘The Tribe’ Is a Dangerous Film

by Trey Hock on July 25, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Solid Rock Fist Up]

The Tribe, the first feature film from Ukrainian director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, offers a troubling conundrum to any affected viewer. The incredible performances, detailed craft and construction and compelling story make it beautiful and engaging film, but the brutal subject matter and the lack of spoken dialogue make it difficult to widely recommend.

The story begins as a new high school student arrives at a school for the deaf. Because all of the principle characters are deaf, there is no spoken dialogue. There are no subtitles either. We must discern the story through gesture, blocking, and framing alone.

The new student becomes a part of gang of students that commits acts of petty theft, physical assault and prostitution. When the new student becomes emotionally attached to one of the young women, her misguided willingness to participate in the sex trade as a mail order bride and his deranged need to protect her come into direct and violent conflict.

The Tribe is emotionally intense and difficult to watch in part because of the beauty and clarity of each image. The dangers that present themselves because of the characters’ deafness are stark and unforgiving. In the scene where the two women are being offered up to truckers at a truck stop, the young pimp takes moment to smoke a cigarette while the two women service their clients.

A truck begins to back up slowly, behind the young man. The crunch of tires on snow is soft in the sound mix, and we can see clearly that the young man cannot see the approaching threat. He does not understand until it is too late. The back of the truck bumps him. He tries to turn, but falls and the wheels of the semi slowly roll over him and crush his body.

Due to the lack of dialogue through either sound or subtitle, Slaboshpitsky puts great thought into the construction of his frame and the constantly moving camera. For most of the film this highly controlled visual construction subtly guides the viewer through the story as it unfolds. At one or two points, perhaps due to the stark sound design and constructed frame and camera movement, the camera becomes apparent in a way the undermines the onscreen moment.

When the women are applying for their passports so they may be married off to two Italian men, we see them through the two windows of consecutive government offices. Outside the gang leader and aging facilitator sign to each other over cigarettes. The blocking of the scene becomes highly apparent and for a minute or two I was very aware of the director’s hand.

In spite of the very occasional and very slight missteps, The Tribe is a viciously affective film. Its ending in particular is incredible and relentless. The Tribe will make you feel deeply, but the dark emotional place it takes you, may not be safe for most audiences.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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