July 13, 2015

Movie Review: The Tribe (Plemya)

There are some movie experiences that defy explanation or even description. I remember going to a Bollywood movie (I believe it was Bbuddha Hoga Terra Baap) and realizing a few minutes in that it was not subtitled. I had a moment of panic and then a decision, should I stay or should I go? I decided to stay. No, I did not understand the language, but it was told broadly enough that I could get what was happening. I also recall when Mel Gibson wanted to release the The Passion of the Christ without subtitles, and the outcry that led to. Now we have a movie that is almost designed not to be understood. The movie is The Tribe and it is unlike anything I have seen before.

The Tribe is a movie set in a school for the deaf and it is completely populated with deaf characters played by a deaf cast. There is no spoken dialogue, no character says a word. There are no subtitles. There is no voice over. There is no music. Nothing. It is the quietest film I have ever seen. The only sounds are the incidentals, footsteps, creaking doors, hands clapping as they speak in signs. I also sat it in a theater with maybe 25 seats, it was about half full, and with the exception of movie snacks and a clearing of a throats, was dead silent. It was the absolute quietest theatrical experience I have ever had. This lasted for the 2+ hours the movie ran.

I feel like I may wind up overrating this movie some, but I think it deserves it. On one hand I recognize it is not the best movie out there, for all I know it isn't even a good one. There is something about the boldness of executing a movie in this fashion, it adds a layer of disconnect between the audience and the film. It forces you to watch the movie and try to become invested in it, while not really being able to. The technical aspects take the disconnect a step further, there are no close ups, they are mostly from a distance (establishing and 2 or 3-shot). It is a fascinating experiment.

The story follows a new student arriving at a boarding school, a grimy, rundown, Communist leftover sort of place that feels more like a facility than a school. We watch as he arrives at the school and goes to his first class, and that is all we get of the school. The school is just a setting, a way to get our young characters away from parental supervision and place them in this insular world, that feels strange and alien to us watching from the outside. We meet a variety of characters (though no names are revealed) and watch as our main character falls in with the bad boys.

These bad boys are not merely bad boys, they are a criminal gang (the Tribe). They rob people, thy pretend to sell knick knacks on a train while looking for unattended bags they can steal. It doesn't stop there, they play pimp to a couple of female classmates that they sell to truck drivers at a nearby truck stop. We watch as our main guy is initially hazed and then climbs up through the ranks. Things begin to change when he becomes the main pimp when the previous guy is accidentally run over by a truck (the deaf cannot hear the backup beeps). He develops feelings and has an affair with one of the prostitutes. Things head south as he tries to do something with those feelings and throws the gang hierarchy for a loop.

Clearly there is more to it than that, but much of it is conjecture as to the true relationships. It is Ukrainian sign language, and the only way I could really understand was through facial expression and how they were signing as opposed to what they were signing.. The film is quite graphic, and at times very unsettling. It takes some seriously disturbing turns in the final moments that I felt were rather haunting. Very disconcerting, while we could see them coming, it was hard to feel it because of the lack of understanding communication.

This is not a perfect movie. It is one that I like a lot, the daring style, the barriers put up in between movie and audience. With that said, I think there is room for a little more creative editing. Some of the transitions did not work as well as they could have and the time advancement was a bit jarring. Still, there are some great steadicam shots that have you following a character, giving you time to try and think about what may be going on in his head.

The Tribe is a movie that has worked itself into my brain more in its aftermath than during. It is a fantastic debut feature for writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky. It is a movie I suspect will leave audiences divided and is clearly not for a mainstream audience, but if you are looking for something a little different, this is well worth the effort.

Highly Recommended.

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