The Tribe is an experience. A startling jolt of adrenaline that is both unforgettable and unsettling. The lack of both dialogue and subtitles is not a gimmick, but rather an integral part of the overall way the film wraps itself around the viewer. Set entirely in the world of the deaf, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s debut film focuses on a gang of students who spend more time engaging in various criminal activities than they do attending classes. Our guide into this shocking and seedy world is Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), a new student arriving at a boarding school for the deaf and mute.
Discovering the social hierarchy that exists within the institution, Sergey is initiated into the top clique, The Tribe. Unlike other teenagers whose free time consists of watching television and surfing the web, this rowdy bunch spend their nights running a prostitution ring at a nearby truck stop, robbing locals, and selling stolen merchandise on the train. Slowly moving up the ranks of the gang, Sergey is promoted to the roll of head pimp and ends up falling for one of the young escorts. Breaking the cardinal rule of mixing business with pleasure, Sergey soon learns that The Tribe is unforgiving to those who step out of line.
Bold and disturbing, The Tribe is not a film that one can easily shake from the mind afterwards. By eliminating the subtitles, Slaboshpitsky not only places us within the character’s shoes, but also forces us to pay closer attention to what is occurring on the screen. Tracking shots through the truck rest stops carry an extra eerie feel. The possibility of danger comes not only with every truck driver who opens the door to buy an escort, but also with the movements of the vehicles which the students cannot hear.
Slaboshpitsky’s film is both intriguing and haunting in its execution. Early on in the film he plants his camera firmly inside the school silently observing the ceremony ushering in the new school year that is taking place just outside the door frame. He does not rush the moment, but lulls us into a false sense of security. Slaboshpitsky utilizes a similar static shot later in the film, but this time it is longer and far more uncomfortable. The focus is no longer on the happy students, but instead a young teenage escort having an illegal abortion.
While not graphic in the traditional sense – the camera stays at a distance forcing us to react to the young woman’s facial experiences and body language – much of the abortion scenes unflinching intensity stems from the fact that Slaboshpitsky refuses to cut away. He uses moments like this, and the jaw-dropping finale, to emphasize that crime and corruption can consume those with disabilities as easily as it can those without.
The Tribe is a film whose appreciation comes more from its construction and execution rather than its overall narrative. The characters are unlikable and their motives are downright despicable. However, the film’s cold and bleak nature lingers in the mind for days. Though wildly original and audacious, don’t be surprised if you find yourself needing a hug after enduring The Tribe’s most unflinchingly startling moments.
Friday, May 29, 9:40 PM, The Royal Cinema
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival website.