Clar­ity and re­al­ism in ‘ The Tribe’

The di­rec­tor’s big­gest chal­lenge was mak­ing it un­der­stand­able with no spo­ken di­a­logue.

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - By Mark Olsen mark.olsen@latimes.com Twit­ter: @IndieFo­cus

The Ukrainian f ilm “The Tribe” is full of both the fa­mil­iar and the un­usual, as shock­ing for what it is as for what it is not. A film with­out spo­ken di­a­logue or sub­ti­tles that is also not a silent f ilm. A teens- in- trou­ble movie set within a spe­cific com­mu­nity rarely seen on- screen. A story that many will want to read as a po­lit­i­cal al­le­gory, though its f ilm­maker says that was not the in­ten­tion.

The fea­ture de­but from writer- di­rec­tor My­roslav Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy, the f ilm is set around a board­ing school for deaf chil­dren in which adult au­thor­ity is all but ab­sent. In­stead, there is a strictly struc­tured crim­i­nal regime that runs such en­ter­prises as petty theft and sex traf­fick­ing.

As a new stu­dent, teenager Sergey ( Grig­oriy Fe­senko) tries to nav­i­gate his way through this for­bid­ding world and falls in love with a girl named Anya ( Yana Novikova), up­set­ting the del­i­cate bal­ance of this bru­tal sys­tem.

“It’s not a film about deaf peo­ple, and it’s not a film es­pe­cially for deaf peo­ple. It’s a f ilm for all of us,” Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “Of course the f ilm is for a gen­eral au­di­ence. I think peo­ple who can un­der­stand Ukrainian sign lan­guage are even dis­ap­pointed.”

The film is play­ing now at the Cine­fam­ily in Los An­ge­les, with Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy and Novikova ap­pear­ing in per­son for Q& As over the week­end. “The Tribe” pre­miered at the 2014 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, where it picked up three prizes, and has gone on to win nu­mer­ous other fes­ti­val awards.

Shot in long takes that build a boiling in­ten­sity, as am­bi­ent sounds such as the rustling of clothes and the slap­ping of hands and bod­ies com­bine in un­ex­pected ways, the f ilm ar­rives fully formed and sui generis. In the New York Times, A. O. Scott called it “some­thing of a for­mal tour de force, a tri­umphant over­com­ing of self­im­posed cin­e­matic chal­lenges.” Grant­land’s Wes­ley Mor­ris wrote, “I was knocked out…. I wanted to tell the world to see this movie. I also wanted to call the po­lice.”

In con­ver­sa­tion, Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy, 40, has a warm, ge­nial air that seems at odds with the force­ful power of his film but per­haps also re­veals the source of its darkly com­pas­sion­ate heart.

He worked as a crime re­porter be­fore at­tend­ing film school in Kiev. Hav­ing long har­bored an idea to “make a mod­ern silent f ilm,” he be­gan to see more and more f ilms em­u­lat­ing in one way or the other the style of old silent movies. From the Os­car- win­ning “The Artist” to Miguel Gomes’ “Tabu” and oth­ers, those f ilms would of­ten be in black and white and use ti­tle cards in some way.

Among five short films he made be­fore “The Tribe” was one ti­tled “Deaf­ness,” which led to many con­tacts in the Ukrainian deaf com­mu­nity. He au­di­tioned some 300 deaf peo­ple for roles in “The Tribe.”

Mak­ing her screen de­but is Novikova, a 21- year- old for­mer col­lege stu­dent. ( In­ter­views with Novikova, who is deaf, of­ten re­quire two in­ter­preters, one to trans­late spo­ken ques­tions into Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage, the other into Ukrainian or In­ter­na­tional Sign Lan­guage and back again.)

“The movie is about emo­tion, feel­ings, love and hate,” Novikova said via email while trav­el­ing in the U. S. in sup­port of the film.

Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy added, “It was the big­gest chal­lenge to make the story un­der­stand­able with­out any sub- ti­tles or voice- over. This is what I was think­ing about while writ­ing the story or prep­ping the scenes. I think if au­di­ences can f ind the story, they’ll watch it.”

The f ilm’s pro­duc­tion lasted six months.

“They weren’t movie stars who had to be in a dif­fer­ent city the next day,” the di­rec­tor said of hold­ing on to his cast for so long. A school he at­tended as a boy pro­vided the f ilm with its main lo­ca­tion. When the f ilm was sub­mit­ted to the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, where it pre­miered barely two months af­ter shoot­ing f in­ished, it was with cards de­scrib­ing scenes that weren’t yet com­pleted.

The f ilm in­cludes some very in­tri­cately chore­ographed set pieces. Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy says he is most proud of a scene in which a char­ac­ter is run over by a truck, sim­ply for the lo­gis­ti­cal work in­volved with sev­eral stunt­men and pre­ci­sion plan­ning. Yet he ac­knowl­edges the scene he is asked about most of­ten is a har­row­ing abor­tion per­formed on a coun­ter­top in a dingy kitchen.

Novikova noted the scene was the tough­est in the f ilm for her.

“To go to that space re­quired a lot of work for me. Try­ing to imag­ine the pain and con­fu­sion my char­ac­ter felt was dif­fi­cult,” she said. “Also, it was emo­tion­ally drain­ing, as we took the scene sev­eral times over the course of the day, which re­quired me to cry on cue, moan in pain at a mo­ment’s no­tice and so forth. It was tough.”

For all its rough- and­tum­ble the­atrics, the f ilm boils down to essen­tials of love, loy­alty and sur­vival.

“I don’t think it’s a vi­o­lent f ilm,” said Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy. “As a per­cent­age of the whole, there’s more vi­o­lence in a ‘ Tom and Jerry’ car­toon. It’s just our vi­o­lence looks real, our vi­o­lence doesn’t look at­trac­tive like in a main­stream movie. It looks like real vi­o­lence in real life. Real vi­o­lence is ugly.”

Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy noted that one critic told him the film was like a cross be­tween the Ro­ma­nian drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “The So­pra­nos.” Even given the tim­ing of its pro­duc­tion, Sla­bosh­pyt­skiy is, nev­er­the­less, re­luc­tant to de­clare the f ilm any kind of al­le­gory for the re­cent po­lit­i­cal un­rest in his home­land. He lives in Kiev and not far from Maidan Square, scene of mas­sive protests dur­ing pro­duc­tion.

“Maybe some­thing was just in the air and I felt it, that some­thing must be hap­pen­ing, a spe­cial at­mos­phere,” he said. “Of course I wasn’t think­ing about that, I just tried to make a re­al­is­tic film.”

Draf t house Fil ms

SERGEY ( GRIG­ORIY FE­SENKO)

and Sh­nyr ( Alexandr Sidel­nikov) threaten a school­mate in “The Tribe.”

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