Slaboshpitsky’s mind-blowing debut is both cold and callous, and always unforgiving in its harsh depictions of reality, but preaches a seriously incredible message about the power of performance.
Recently-acclaimed Ukrainian filmmaker Miroslav Slaboshpitsky rewrites the cinematic rules with his debut feature. Devoid of even a single line of dialogue and shot using entirely deaf actors, The Tribe is told entirely through movement – largely sign-language. Oh, and there’s no subtitles either. Intrigued yet?
The Tribe follows a young adolescent who joins a boarding school for the deaf, only to find that fitting in amongst his similarly disabled peers is just as difficult as doing so in the wider world. Over time he begins to become wrapped up in the school’s underground crime syndicate, performing nasty and illicit deeds to prove his worth to his new comrades. But when the boy falls for one of the gang’s working girls, his place within the overall hierarchy becomes threatened.
It may seem a little strange to anyone hearing of this film for the first time right now, but none of the above plot synopsis was taken from anywhere other than my very own memory. Despite featuring no spoken speech and giving the viewer no indication of what the performer’s are actually saying to one another, The Tribe’s plot is relatively easy to pick up. As are its central relationships, and its general tone. In fact, this is very much the central point of Slaboshpitsky’s cinematic experiment: dialogue is ultimately pointless, it simply tells us what we already know, what we’ve already subconsciously picked up on based on body language and action alone.
True, as The Tribe begins one has to use a little more effort to get a grip on what its key narrative is actually concerned with – watching movements and facial reactions rather carefully – but in the grand scheme of things, deriving meaning from the film’s events ultimately feels almost effortless.
Slaboshpitsky’s film unfolds in a series of excruciatingly long, single-take shots which, aside from being ambitious and beautiful in their execution, very much let the performers take the reigns. If anything, Slaboshpitsky and his camera are just patient voyeurs, silently spying on the drama that unfolds. Each and every actor involved feels so organically fused to the film that it very often makes one forget that they’re even watching a fiction at all. The emotions and the jeopardy on display are innately human and frankly impossible to shake. A compliment to Slaboshpitsky’s filmmaking abilities true, but something that ultimately becomes increasingly troublesome to the viewer as the narrative ticks on.
As gloriously crafted as The Tribe is, this is not a film that has been made to entertain. Its low-key and often exceedingly brutal depictions of violence, rape and – in one particularly harrowing case – abortion, are told in a positively unflinching manner, and one that will no doubt disturb viewers to no end. It is without doubt, an incredible achievement in filmmaking, but one that never rewards its audience for their participation at any point.
To recommend such an endlessly upsetting film feels almost malicious, but the sheer level of talent and ingenuity shown in its long, sweeping takes mark The Tribe as very much a cinematic milestone. One that will no doubt plague and perplex you, but an important one none the less.
The Tribe (2014), directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray by Metrodome. Certificate 18.