Armando Maggi’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Tribe is a haunting, unforgettable, unique film. It is the most powerful and bold film I have seen in a long time. It had a strong impact on me.
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, the director of this Ukrainian film, has made two crucial statements:
1. THE TRIBE IS A SILENT FILM FOR OUR MODERN TIMES.
2. BEFORE SHOOTING THE SEX SCENES BETWEEN THE PROSTITUTE AND HER YOUNG LOVER HE HAD THEM WATCH FILMS BY PIER PAOLO PASOLINI.
My review is based on these two points.
1. Why a silent film?
We go back to the origins of cinema when reality seemed to reveal itself unfiltered, raw: the first short documentaries showing a train passing by, a square crowded with busy people, ladies walking in a garden and waving at the camera. Cinema captured reality as it was, and the viewer had the impression that he/she saw reality for the first time.
Set in a poor Ukrainian boarding school for deaf students, The Tribe uses either static long shots or long tracking shots. Reality is shown from a distance. No close-ups. A close-up is there to tell you that that specific character matters, and that you need to remember his/her face. In The Tribe, we look at the young deaf students, the young ruthless criminals and the two young female prostitutes with the distance of someone that can't approach them, can't address them. The young man who joins the school at the beginning of the film and turns out to be its main character, is never granted a close-up.
In a silent film reality speaks itself, unfiltered, raw. When we see the young pimp at night being run over by a truck we are reminded that these young people do not hear anything (he couldn't hear the beeping sound of the truck backing up behind him), and this young man's death takes place with no commotion and no commentary, no soundtrack to remind us that what we are seeing is really tragic. Calling his sudden death a tragedy is already a form of commentary. The film just shows it through a static long shot, and what it shows is that reality just is, and its being has no feelings.
When the young prostitute undergoes her first abortion, what is devastating is not just the abortion per se, but the fact that the woman who is performing the abortion is also deaf and thus cannot hear the young deaf/mute girl's desperate whimpering, her muffled moaning. The woman does not make eye contact with her client who is defenseless in the face of the extreme violence she is being subjected to. Again, WHAT IS DISTURBING IN THE ABORTION SCENE IS THAT THE VICTIM'S EXPRESSIONS OF PAIN ARE NOT HEARD BY THE WOMAN WHO IS INFLICTING THE PAIN. MOREOVER, WE, THE VIEWERS, ARE ABLE TO HEAR THE GIRL'S CRIES BUT SINCE WE ARE OUTSIDE THE SCENE WE CANNOT HELP HER. THIS IS FOR ME THE DEEPEST INSIGHT I RECEIVED FROM THIS FILM.
Who hasn't felt impotent and defeated while trying to explain to an interlocutor his/her distress, anguish? We feel we don't have the right words to make our interlocutor understand our pain. "I don't know how to explain it," we usually say.
In The Tribe, the mute/deaf never really speak to each other. Their gestures show that they are furious at each other, they 'scream' at each other, or they lie to each other, they manipulate each other, they humiliate each other, but no real communication takes place in the boarding school. The young man who falls in love with the prostitute is the only one who tries to convince her to love him back, and he fails.
2. BORROWING FROM PIER PAOLO PASOLINI
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy showed films by Pasolini to his actors. The sex scenes between the girl and her devoted lover are visual quotations from Pasolini's "Arabian Nights" and "Decameron." But Slaboshpytskiy has borrowed from Pasolini also his choice of non-professional actors, modest young people who simply perform their own lives. Remember Pasolini's masterpieces ("Accattone" or "Mamma Roma") set in the Roman slums. Like Slaboshpytskiy, Pasolini wanted reality to speak itself as it is, in its sudden poetry or sudden violence. Pasolini believed that his poor, non-professional actors embodied something sacred and unique, and in my view Slaboshpytskiy does the same.
The Tribe could be seen as a horror film. The long tracking shots in the long hallways at night reminded me of Kubrick's The Shining, especially the final devastating scene. But the horror it shows is the horror that reality harbors and reveals with no mercy.
I can't recall the face of the young man who died under the truck. He was devoured and disappeared, his leg later sticking out from the rear tire.
p.s. Flaws: drawn-out scenes with no significant evolution, such as the drinking and eating and showing the shitty t-shirts, the result is an unconvincing acting, because the actors keep repeating the same reactions (the girls are amazed by the exotic t-shirts, the pimp keeps showing off the pictures he took in Rome, etc.)