By James Hancock June 18th, 2015
Whatever movies you plan on watching for the rest of the year, I can guarantee that you will not see another like Miraslov Slaboshpytskiy’s debut feature film The Tribe. Set in a Ukrainian school for the deaf, the film features no dialogue apart from sign language and no subtitles to aid the viewer in understanding the story. Instead we have a film that relies solely on visual storytelling resulting in one of the most genuinely cinematic experiences a moviegoer can have. The unique approach alone would make the film worth seeing it but director Miraslov Slaboshpytskiy ups the ante dramatically with an intense, often disturbing, tale of a young man’s experiences when he joins a brutal gang of teens whose lives are defined by criminal behavior and a ruthless survival of fittest mentality. As a film fanatic I can’t fully express just how satisfying it is to see a movie that goes back to the origins of cinema where silent movies knew no borders and could be enjoyed equally by any audience member around the world. Whether or not these viewers are prepared for the graphic content in the story, however, is another matter entirely.
I caught The Tribe yesterday at a matinee at New York’s Film Forum, a theater that enjoys the patronage of a much older audience especially during the day. I’m always surprised by people who just walk into movies without any prior knowledge of what they are about to see, but I’d be willing to bet that about half of the nearly full theater had no idea what they were in for. The film opens with a notification about the entire film being in sign language without any subtitles and I immediately heard audible groans of frustration ripple throughout the audience. As the story opens, these same unprepared viewers were quickly exposed to several scenes of extreme bullying, a violent initiation into a gang, teens pimping out their girlfriends to truck drivers for cash and without going into spoiler territory, several scenes that are darker and more extreme in nature in the latter half of the film. Throughout the movie I routinely heard shouts of alarm and shock from the audience almost as if they were watching their pets and children getting run over in traffic. I sat in silence in the darkness with my hand over my mouth trying to repress my insane giggle fits each time one of these viewers completely freaked out. I only call attention to these reactions to illustrate that this movie is not for the faint of heart. But for those moviegoers with more intestinal fortitude, The Tribe is a riveting experience. At the heart of the story is a young man whose only sin is breaking the Tribe’s unwritten code of conduct when he falls in love with one of the prostitutes that he is supposed to be putting to work. His feelings set in motion a chain reaction of deadly events that left me, even with my jaded sensibilities, completely slack-jawed for the last act of the film. For people who just want to have a good time at the movies, I’d try and steer them toward Mad Max: Fury Road (my review). That movie is a feast for the senses and a blast to watch from start to finish. I don’t think anyone is going to have what would be described as a good time watching The Tribe. But what people will experience is a movie that is as bold and fearless stylistically as it is daring in the story that Slaboshpytskiy has chosen to tell. Without question, The Tribe is one of the most unforgettable filmmaking debuts in years and I eagerly look forward to seeing whatever films Miraslov Slaboshpytskiy makes in the future.
The Tribe plays at the Film Forum through Tues, June 30: Buy Tickets Here
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