Fantastic Fest 2014: The Tribe

Seriously, you’ve never seen a film like this one before

Of all the hyperbolic phrases in the film critic’s toolkit, “a singular experience” is one that gets thrown around a bit too much, diluting the cinematic pool. But I can safely say, with unequivocal authority, that you have never experienced anything like Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe.

The Tribe

The film, set in a Ukrainian boarding school for the deaf, is told entirely in sign language, with no subtitles or spoken dialogue, voiceover or otherwise. With no choice but to surrender yourself to the images, The Tribe tells the story of Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) a transfer student who arrives at the school, reticent and naive. But not for long, as he is immediately hazed and indoctrinated into a gang run by elite students and corrupt teachers who pimp out female students at truck stops and mug hapless citizens of their money and goods. As Sergey rises up the ranks in these criminal enterprises, he becomes smitten with a fellow student, Anna (Yana Novikova), and his attempt to free her from the clutches of prostituting herself drives the second half of the film.

As a first feature, The Tribe astonishes with its formal beauty. The Steadicam work by Valentyn Vasyanovych is breathtaking. Every scene is a single, long take, and the way the film follows the rhythms of the teenager's everyday life is enthralling. All sound is diegetic, a van’s engine humming away while the girls prowl the truckstop cleverly juxtaposes the lack of connection to sound that these characters have. Oh, and did I mention that the majority of actors in this film are nonprofessionals? The Tribe investigates a hidden world, a marginalized subculture that is sometimes confounding, but endlessly exhilarating. It hearkens back to silent films from a century ago, while also feeling like the future of cinema. How’s that for hyperbolic?

The film won multiple awards at Cannes this year, and was subsequently scooped up by Drafthouse Films (the distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse), so it will most likely see some local screenings in the near future. If you are a lover of cinema, you owe it to yourself to place The Tribe on your must-see list. Uncompromising and supremely controlled, it is a demanding film that will leave you shaken, shattered, and confident that the death of cinema is a long way off.

The Tribe screens again Thursday, Sept. 25, 1:50pm.

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Fantastic Fest, The Tribe, Fantastic Fest 2014, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky

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