The Tribe focuses on our unnamed protagonist as he arrives at a boarding school for deaf and mute girls and boys somewhere in a cold, sparse and hostile Ukraine. Initially he struggles to fit in; subjected to ridicule and bullying from his new schoolmates, but after a literally bruising initiation he slowly becomes a key part of ‘The Tribe’. We quickly learn that ‘The Tribe’ are not only bullying the younger kids, having sex and drinking underage but also sneaking out at night to attack and rob locals and that the girls are being exploited as prostitutes for local lorry drivers. After a heart stopping accident our protagonist finds himself involved with one of the girls and events build to a shocking and enigmatic climax. Taking in Prostitution, Rape and Abortion; The Tribe is not for the faint of heart.
From the outset we are positioned as detached participant observers, as the narrative unfolds wordlessly; entirely signed in a series of long static and tracking shots. This is a very clever decision by director Slaboshpitsky as it keeps us involved in the events but also strangely removed from them. It is intimate, yet we are still outsiders. Scenes are allowed to breathe and play out without cuts and they are all the more affecting as a result. The long takes and lack of dialogue move to create an incredibly unsettling atmosphere and only increase the tension. Without dialogue we do not get to know the finer details and the film is all the better for it, aided by the superb performances of the non-professional actors that only enhance the naturalistic feel of the film.
Director Slaboshpitsky deserves immense credit for fashioning an original, fascinating and gripping film, with not a single line of dialogue and deaf non-professional actors. The Tribe is a superb piece of visual storytelling recalling Steve McQueen’s electrifying debut Hunger. Despite no dialogue and no non – diegetic sound we have no trouble following the narrative and thus The Tribe makes a mockery of Hollywoods reliance on exposition and artificiality.
The Tribe is uncompromising and real, one of the most vital pieces of cinema this year.
Review by Antony Palmer
The Tribe is out now on DVD.