‘ The Tribe’

‘ The Tribe’ is an un­usual, graphic and re­mark­ably crafted drama set in a crime- plagued school for the deaf.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Robert Abele cal­en­dar@ latimes. com

This word­less tour de force tracks crime ring at school for the deaf.

There’s noth­ing like “The Tribe,” the as­tound­ing de­but fea­ture from Ukrainian writer- di­rec­tor My­roslav Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy about a mob op­er­at­ing within a crum­bling school for the deaf. One need not read it as a metaphor for the di­rec­tor’s home­land to ap­pre­ci­ate the movie as a tour de force.

“The Tribe” is a vor­tex of film­mak­ing style and hu­man­ity’s darker im­pulses, dur­ing which you may f ind your­self claw­ing the seat to re­sist its se­vere, some­times ex­ceed­ingly graphic pull. But deny­ing its power is tough. A for­mer crime re­porter, Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy has made one of the most un­usual and dis­turb­ing f ilms about crim­i­nal­ity of the new cen­tury.

Be­fore the first im­age ap­pears, the movie warns you of its gim­mick: The char­ac­ters all com­mu­ni­cate in sign lan­guage, with no sub­ti­tling or nar­ra­tion.

As raw as that deal may seem be­tween an am­bi­tious di­rec­tor and for­eign- film au­di­ences nor­mally un­fazed by lan­guage bar­ri­ers, Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy uses it to free up his vis­ual sto­ry­telling and di­rec­tion of ac­tors, which is nearly al­ways il­lu­mi­na­tive.

It also fos­ters an abid­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the ges­tic­u­la­tive art of the all- deaf per­form­ers, whose in­ter­ac­tions — what­ever the emo­tion at hand — have the ex­pres­sive­ness of chore­og­ra­phy.

Be as­sured, there’s no lack of nar­ra­tive clar­ity here, only the per­sis­tent sense that noth­ing cheer­ful is in store.

Our en­try into this her­metic world is a sturdy but quiet ( be­lieve me, that makes sense) new kid ( Grig­oriy Fe­senko).

He’s im­me­di­ately set upon by a few brash male stu­dents who ini­ti­ate him into their off- hours ex­ploits, which in­clude rob­bery and as­sault.

Soon he’s part of the se­cret ring ’s pros­ti­tu­tion de­tail, bro­ker­ing the sex­ual ser­vices of two fe­male class­mates to truck driv­ers at an overnight lot for rigs.

When he falls for one of them, an en­er­getic, toughas- nails blond ( Yana Novikova), the com­pli­ca­tions that arise mu­tate the f irst half of the movie’s eye- catch­ing, queasily thrilling tale of gang re­cruit­ment into a mer­ci­less dis­sec­tion of nur­tured bru­tal­ity and group alien­ation.

It all bleakly un­rav­els into a hor­rif­i­cally vi­o­lent con­clu­sion that, one re­al­izes, could hap­pen only in a sound­less realm.

“The Tribe” is marked not just by word­less­ness — the am­bi­ent sound makes it not truly silent — but by Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy’s mes­mer­iz­ing long takes.

Each one is a mini- drama of move­ment, sus­pense and rev­e­la­tion, whether track­ing char­ac­ters around the rooms, hall­ways and grounds of the school, or parked in one spot for a scene of mis­chief, con­ver­sa­tion, ex­plicit sex, or, late in the f ilm, an ex­cru­ci­at­ing real- time abor­tion. It’s shoot­ing style, pa­tient yet preda­tory, that feels one part Eastern Euro­pean di- rec­tors’ pen­chant for pro­tract­edly gloomy tableaux, one part Brian De Palma in voyeur mode, with a dash of Martin Scors­ese ar­tic­u­lat­ing the ki­net­ics of gang­ster life.

The f ilm is made up of only 34 shots — fewer cuts than Michael Bay would use to f ilm a com­mer­cial. But stitched to­gether, the ef­fect is brac­ingly al­chemic in con­nect­ing us to a cor­ro­sive world, and char­ac­ters for whom the mo­bil­ity of sight is ev­ery­thing.

Few f irst f ilms have so con­fi­dently ex­e­cuted such a for­mal­ist ap­proach to vi­su­als and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

It must be said, though, that Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy’s of­ten bril­liant movie — inspired by sto­ries heard dur­ing his jour­nal­ism days — is not for ev­ery­one, which is usu­ally true of punches to the gut. Though its por­trait of an out­sider com­mu­nity, one rarely de­picted apart from the pa­tron­iz­ing lens of dis­abil­ity dra­mas, is rad­i­cally stim­u­lat­ing, it’s a tone swing in the other di­rec­tion that will prove too grim for some. These aren’t voice­less peo­ple. The to­tal­ity of their des­per­ate, bru­tal ac­tions is as di­rect and re­sound­ing as a scream.

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