The Tribe ★★★½

There's less than 40 shots in The Tribe and for about half of them I was openly exclaiming "how did they do that?" out of sheer awe. There's something about eastern European cinema and the long take, filmmakers there have such a grasp on what equates to a great shot and how to create these amazing moments within the uncut take that you'd think wouldn't be possible. I haven't yet delved deep into the behind-the-scenes notes of this film but a few times I was genuinely wondering if what I was seeing was real. There's a five minute sex scene, a long take with some grim killings and an absolutely harrowing unauthorised abortion scene where I cannot figure out how these shots succeeded. The abortion scene especially is horrific torture for the viewer. After having not heard a single word for around ninety minutes at that point the sound of those blood-curdling screams come right at you full force like a baseball bat to the skull.

For those that don't know, the unique thing about The Tribe is that it's all in sign language with no subtitles. Set in a boarding school for deaf kids, our protagonist gets involved with the titular gang and things get messy. In effect it's a silent film, except there's no title cards holding your hand and you've got to follow the story through the characters' mannerisms and actions (unless you can read sign language.) Which is sort of brilliant, since the film forces it's audience to consume cinema in a totally new way. With no words, we must focus on other aspects of the film. The use of silence and how every minuscule sound that does emanate from the film holds a much larger weight than it normally would. How characters interact with one another physically and what their body language says about them. How the growth of the protagonist throughout the film is illustrated through the dichotomy of the camera framing him towards the start and the end. The camera is often intrusive to the film, director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky doesn't care if the viewer notices his camera movements. Sometimes we'll see it veer back away from characters, following them parallel on an adjacent path. Other times the camera will feel like another character, following bodies around as if in a queue or part of the tribe itself. The film is extremely raw and Slaboshpitsky insists on examining every dirty corner of the boarding school and every dark atrocity that are usually reserved for behind closed doors.

A question that popped into my head during the film was "is this a gimmick?" Akin to something like Birdman, which even though I liked, was a little on the gimmicky side. I guess the way to figure it out would be to ask "would this film be just as good without the sign-language aspect?" I think the answer is no. The narrative is simple and with dialogue the film is similar, but as I mentioned earlier the lack of dialogue forces the audience to experience something unique in that we must approach the film differently, we must actually change our viewing habits for 131 minutes, and there's not many films that can lay claim to that.

As hard-hitting as it gets. Brutal, scary, harrowing, filled with long takes and not containing a single word. Fun for all the family around Christmas I reckon.

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