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TIFF 2014 Review: The Tribe

The Tribe is a two-hour-plus episodic crime drama built on a series of tracking shots told in silence to the extent that we only hear ambience, and the scraping of hands as they gesture Ukrainian sign language.

The first two dauntingly long takes involve our lead Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) first signing for directions at a busy bus stop, and second approaching and circling the boarding school, an institution for the deaf that serves as the main setting in The Tribe, during the opening assembly. The shots carefully emphasize the tension between Sergey and his ability to comprehend and interact within the environment.

That’s what The Tribe is ultimately about- the way Sergey adapts to a vile cesspool of organized crime and prostitution, and eventually becomes embroiled in it- just another one of the perps. The film is, for its first 45 minutes, enthralling as writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy introduces the space with propulsive tracking shots that change locations, distances, and point-of-views on the fly. The effect, as artifice or arguably more, doesn’t wear off.

The problem, however, is that The Tribe, based off the director’s own 2010 short “Deafness”, also doesn’t wear off its self-satisfied cynicism towards its characters, actions, and most importantly- the consequences. The film hits a certain point where we can predict the ploys and staging of these once-very nifty shots, and that’s disappointing because the payoffs typically end on perverse forms of sex and violence- acts that certainly shock but don’t inform. There’s no need for Slaboshpytskiy to show one sex scene and then another later on between the same characters in the exact same framing and elongated duration. It’s redundant.

The Tribe is a film that I think many will love, but my admiration for its daring comes muddled with a disappointment that the story concedes to petty nihilism and misery. It’s a work that crosses a certain threshold of skillfulness, and then refuses to expand on its own visual approach. Behold, a troubling paradox: The Tribe is unforgettable yet unrewarding.

[star v=25]