Last year I remarked that watching Foxcatcher was like having your spirit in a vice grip. I was unsure a movie could top the oppressive nature of that film, but then along came The Tribe, a beautifully rendered film, which proves to be just as corrosive to the soul. Unlike that previous film, this movie beckons you to join its sadistic pleasures, from its alluring long takes to the fact that there are no subtitles for the sign language. Try though you might, you can’t but help lean into the film, even as the sheer bleakness provides no recourse.
The Tribe tells the story of a specialized boarding school for the deaf in the Ukraine and it’s students. Sergey, a new student from out of town, arrives and is quickly thrust into the world of The Tribe, a group of students who would just as soon as help their friends prostitute themselves as go to class. It’s a seedy world and Sergey quickly finds himself having to act in self preservation by contributing to these acts. However, as the longer he’s involved the more the lifestyle starts ingraining in him and his true colors start to show, particularly when he gets involved with a girl.
This movie succeeds because it is constructed to work as a wholistic experience that envelopes you. It is really hard to understand what exactly is going on during this film. The fact that there are no subtiles automatically adds intrigue to the proceedings. Just what are the characters saying, we wonder as the movie moves on. This choice forces the audience to judge every character by their actions, which is a new feeling for the audience. Unless you know sign language, you don’t know whether or not the characters are acting as their true selves. This provides an incredible immediacy with the film as you have to reckon with people at their most base and ugly.
This is not to say that this movie is a mess by any stretch, its so composed and well directed that the chaos spills over just as Miroslav Slaboshpitsky wants it to. He’s a brilliant director, getting incredibly searing performances from his actors (Grigoriy Fesenko and Yana Novikova are phenomenal) while still maintaining a visually compelling movie. The film is told almost exclusively in long takes, even with the most mundane of actions taking place in extended sequences. These are much needed because the only information we have about characters is what is presented on the screen. Slaboshpitsky also flexes his directorial muscle in that he uses a lot of tricks to get you involved. The opening long shot on a busy street where we see the main character trying to get help is a brilliant way to seet up the premise and give us a sense of what will happen. I say a sense, because nothing Slaboshpitsky does in the opening moments really clues you in on the downward spiral the characters take.
I want to expound upon the film further, but to do so is to get perilously close to spoiler territory. Therefore, I will just say this is a movie experience that you must treat yourself to, even if it will render your spirit unable to deal properly.