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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Myroslav Slaboshpytsky’s film sets a new standard in Ukrainian filmmaking

28 May, 2014 - 17:55
A STILL FROM THE TRIBE / Photo from the website VOGUE.UA

People are waiting for a trolleybus at a stop. We see the entire scene through general shot across a motorway with busy traffic. On the right of the stop there is a rusty skeleton of a car: a sign of abandonment. It is autumn, the colors are restrained. A young man appears (according to the script his name is Serhii) with a backpack and a suitcase which is not much to look at. He comes up to someone, gesticulates, obviously asking the way. We cannot hear the dialog. After that we watch Serhii going up the stairs to a place, which looks like a poor, shabby school, where an all-school assembly dedicated to the end of the school year is taking place. The film remains wordless. However, the lamp above the entrance to the lobby starts blinking, as if alarm has been started.

We won’t hear a word till the end. All actors are deaf. All dialogs are in the language of gestures, the action takes place in the boarding school for children with hearing disabilities; the lamp substitutes the bell in a usual school. No subtitles, no voice over. And this is not just a formal method.

What is this film about? About a society which was created due to reasons that are deeper than social. The plot is defined by its actions, its rituals, and its hierarchy. Therefore there are only few close-ups. Everything takes place in the medium shot or long shot. It is important to embrace namely the commonness; besides, the distance gives the audience a crucial stand for understanding the events. We can see that this makes the empathy more acute: the effect resembles the one created in good documentary films.

According to the routine, Serhii goes through initiation (the scene of a fight in the backyard in front of people who are violently gesticulating is one of the best), and after that he does the same his tribesmen do: goes hunting (robbery), merry makes after the adventures, helps to punish those who committed an offence, gets a promotion in the food chain, drives girls (they earn money for the tribe by working as prostitutes) to truck drivers, and wins affection of one of the girls. At this moment everything starts to ruin: the hero breaks the traditions, which don’t envisage love. He falls to the level of selling toys in trains. He is driven out of the room of leaders to live with another outlaw. Everything is like it should be. Social conditions weigh like doom, but doom is not limited to life circumstances.

The Tribe is a kingdom of biomechanics, a story leased by gesture, but not only that. The director refuses from using the language – oral speech – for the sake of visual language (and here the contribution of cameraman Valentyn Vasianovych can be hardly exaggerated). Slaboshpytsky does not need the words, which often serve as a crutch for weak films, to say what he wants to say. When, for example, one of the characters goes between trucks and disappears in complete darkness for several seconds, his death in the next scene looks logically predetermined. On the whole, The Tribe does not have unnecessary scenes, although its duration is more than two hours. The film is divided into 25 fragments shot as one scene without editing patches, and these episodes are made rhythmic by a variety of ways. It seems that the whole picture is built according to a whole rhythmic score, supplemented by a continuous movement of the camera: these are not the hackneyed jumps in the style of Von Trier’s epigones, but namely the smooth, flying sliding, which brings a special beauty to the world of the Tribe, and also enriched with action, it brings huge kinesthetic energy, therefore completely absorbing the attention of the audience.

The hero has a unique quality: hearing, which is not physical, but inner. This guy is the only one who tries to break away with the circle of greed and survival, the meaningless and merciless routine, because he is able to love. His deeds, even the most terrible ones, are dictated by this inner sensitivity – and vulnerability. Serhii revolts and overcomes the laws of the Tribe like a real tragic protagonist – a lonely person who throws down challenge to the destiny, measuring with heavy slow steps his descending to his personal hell of freedom he acquires forever.

The Tribe is not just a success of Ukrainian cinema, but also a new language, which has not been tried by this cinema before. Slaboshpytsky has thrown down such a challenge to our cinematographic society that it is impossible to ignore it. The most difficult and the most interesting things come further. Because it depends not only on Myroslav, but also on his fellow directors, whether The Tribe remains a lonely gratifying precedent – or will start the long-awaited Ukrainian new wave, which will at last surprise the world.

By Dmytro DESIATERYK, The Day