Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Tribe is a Ukrainian high concept arthouse festival darling that was making waves back in 2014 and has since slowly trickled its way oversees and on to tracking sites.
Ive had my hands (hehe) on it for a while now but im only just now diving into its world. There is no better time to get engrossed into East European misery porn than the desolate wintertime in the Midwest! Its basically the same setting...
I have to say what impressed me the most about The Tribe wasnt its commitment to the absence of dialogue. If you dont know, the film takes place at a dilapidated boarding school for deaf teens. The main character gets wrapped up in the secret world of crime and sex going on within its walls. The entire film is told through sign language without a single subtitle, spoken word, or note of music. While this concept is a great cinematic achievement and opens up a potential wealth of symbolic opportunities, I think the unheralded hero of the film is the setting itself. The interior shots of dark, silent halls in the run down boarding school look like something out of a horror film. And the exterior of the school is plastered with faded paint, graffiti, broken windows and chained off areas of secrecy. Its an intense setting that screams of pain and forgotten youth.
To go along with a surreal setting, the film employs long drawn out single takes that either focus on a single setting for a period of time, or weave through the halls following characters as they head to a destination. The cinematography feels very new wave. It helps stack on a brooding and anxious feeling throughout each and every scene. No matter how disturbing or cruel, the tone of the film is what the core experience is built around.
But it cant go without saying that there are some pretty good teen performances from first timers; they are asked to do a lot of physical acting that gives away what the characters are talking about or feeling obviously without us ever knowing what they are REALLY discussing. It becomes a fun game to dissect what scenes mean by using visual cues and symbolism. There is clearly a heirarchy at work in the film that keeps everything in balance and often gives explanation to what the characters are doing. And the much talked about ending of the film is a rejection of this heirarchy. But where the heirarchy is cast out, there is also a certain kind of submission. I saw the ending as an example of someones surroundings perpetuating certain behavior. And I believe personally this is what was supposed to be taken away from the film.
But with that being said im not sure the film opened as many new doors as some people are believing. The way in which the message was conveyed is unique for sure, but as far as the story goes I kept feeling like I had seen this kind of film before. I kept waiting for the film to turn a corner into different territory but it never did. I feel like it couldve had a much stronger connection to the student body to make something a little more personal.
Its a film that leaves you figuratively and literally cold. Much of that is the desired effect for sure. Its a Hell of a technical and artistic achievement but I couldnt help but feel like I was supposed to take away something more than that.