Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s film The Tribe tells a deeply affecting story of deaf children living under the radar in an organisationally and emotionally neglected Ukrainian state-run boarding school. This story unfolds via new pupil Serhly, played by Grygoriy Fesenko.
The school is initially presented in a normalised setting as we can see above where Serhly introduces himself to his new head mistress as part of a minimalised induction process. A running theme is the story being slowly revealed by referring back to earlier seemingly inconsequential points. We’ll see more of the man on the left later.
The facade of normalisation soon breaks down as Serhly is absorbed into the pupils’ sophisticated underground co-operative that appears to all but run the school due to the emotional and organisational neglect mentioned earlier. This scene initially shows pupils fighting for sport but is later revealed as a training exercise for highly co-ordinated muggings of outsiders, muggings of outsiders being one of their revenue sources.
It’s worth taking a step back to describe the film’s outwardly defining point, the film is told almost entirely via visual language. All characters communicate only via sign language with no subtitles or intertitles to interpret this for the viewer.
Not only is this an compelling method of telling the story due to the slow revealing nature and enforced degree of separation, it also brings the film’s sound design to the fore. We can hear: footsteps soundtracking the pupils’ journeys, their sighs of anger and pain are amplified, and in the situation above their physical interactions with each other we can hear fist against fist.
So far I’ve referred to the children as pupils but they’re just children, who act predictably similar in all sub-cultures. This scene’s only extraordinary aspect is the alcohol for this night in the park being sourced via a mugging expedition.
Like many organised crime syndicates—because this is what the children’s’ co-operative is—this one has varied sources of revenue. The two girls from the co-operative are used to supply nearby truck drivers’ sexual requirements. This is where the morality tensions become both more apparent and distressing, for the first time we can clearly see exploitation between the children and the wider world is not only a two way affair but strongly biased towards the children being exploited.
The man from the first frame grab reappears in a scene which sets up one of the plot’s endpoints. The two girls are being groomed to travel to Italy, we presume, to service the sex worker trade. Chillingly we don’t know how institutionalised this project is, referring back to the man’s attendance in the head mistress’s office, we now wonder what their meeting was about.
Cause and effect. Here one of the two girls Anya (played by Yana Novikova) arranges a back street abortion. The operation itself is shot from a fixed camera position and in its entirety. This shot is more physically and emotionally graphic than even Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a film with post-Soviet environmental and situational similarities.
As mentioned earlier, these are just children. Considering the eventual outcome it would be crass to say it’s good to see the children haven’t been completely emotionally neutered despite their circumstances, but for a moment at least, this interchange between Serhly and Anya is simply that of a boy not being able to accept losing his girl. We share his despair and frustration, and are then forced to share the brutality of his resultant actions.
The Tribe’s final scene is one of the most horrific in cinema, this is no horror without consequence or context as in definably horror films. None of the film is easy to watch but for many of us it’s essential to watch. A filmic and narrative masterpiece.
Reference: The Tribe – Wikipedia