The Tribe is an experience. All sign language and no subtitles. A few, very mobile long takes. It’s formally an awesome experience – all the more amazing as the director’s first film. The wide lens, the textured locations, and shocks of violence are effective.
Small SPOILERS here
The anarchy of the boarding school immediately calls to mind …If or Zero for Conduct. But there’s a disturbing lack of consequences in The Tribe. This is a movie about gangs and the conformity to a structure, sure, but there’s also, at least towards the beginning, some idea of school norms: we’re in a classroom where a teacher lectures an unruly student. We roam the halls. We see the cafeteria.
And then that just all disappears. The rest of the film is in the dorms, and various other dangerous locations. Someone gets run over by a truck, female students are prostituted, there’s more than one brutal robbery, and then some extremely intense violence towards the end. Sure, the school itself might overlook these (the headmaster/wood-working teacher (Oleksandr Panivan) seems to be in on much of it), but without any outside influence (a glance at cops, maybe, while they wait for passports is all we see) the film feels overly fictional and too closed off.
So is this supposed to be microcosm or allegory? Maybe. But then when we visit the outside world, and the students all act the same way, it loses power. The absence of any authority is glaring – the film becomes less about anarchy (because to have anarchy you need to have something to rebel against), and more about the inner workings and levels of a gang. That’s all well and good – and really, really compelling at times – but there seem to be no repercussions; so the violence is disturbing and shocking, but with little tension.
I’m also reminded of Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom. I’m pretty rarely reminded of that film. Pasolini’s film has a lot in common with Slaboshpytskyi’s. Both are contained, but have little consequences, both show unrestrained hedonism (sort of…Slaboshpytskyi’s is less about hedonism and more about structure…but it’s close), both urge an allegorical reading.
Pasolini’s film has the overt title and historical hindsight. Slaboshpytskyi’s doesn’t really have either. Pasolini’s film also has a built-in excuse for the lack of ramifications: the Fascists are on the run. People are coming for them. They know this. So they cram in as much horror as they can in the little time they have left. The point is that there are repercussions coming and we and they know it…we just don’t really see it in the film. For me that’s the biggest difference between Salò and The Tribe.
Still, The Tribe is memorable. It features one of the hardest scenes I’ve ever watched in a film – a “back-alley” abortion that is so realistically played and detailed. It’s also hard to shake the ending, partially because it feels like such an overreaction (and that, I believe, is the point).
And then there’s that camera, which is so confident. The blocking is precise and never stale.
Here’s at look at one of the simpler takes. The camera moves along with four characters as they make their way across the snowy landscape. It stays in medium to full, until they meet their friends and the frame stops short, covering them wide:
Slaboshpytskyi’s camera motivation is traditional – we rarely don’t follow a character or characters. As in here – part of the group moves frame right. The camera follows, revealing a new character. Eventually the frame pushes in on only him as he opens a garage:
The camera pulls back as the car leaves the garage and parks, finding the initial characters in the background. It then pushes forward again as the garage is closed:
Seems simple enough, but the movement is quick, each stop of the frame is well-composed and dynamic, and the shift from character to character are so fluid. In later sequences, like when characters move in and through a truck yard, the tight spaces make for some really kinetic turns and tracks.