REVIEW: The Tribe

20 04 2015

The TribeRiverRun International Film Festival

Like Iñárritu’s “Birdman,” Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s “The Tribe” amounts to so much more than its novel logline.  The film centers around deaf students who speak in sign language, but the audience receives no subtitles to discern their exact words.  And since the film is from Ukraine, most trying to lip-read for meaning do so in vain.

With all due respect to masters like Hitchcock or Haneke, I do not think I have ever been more aware of my position as voyeuristic spectator than I was watching “The Tribe.”  Slaboshpytskiy grants us a layer of sensory detail unavailable to the characters, yet I still had to work twice as hard as them to make sense of what was occurring before my eyes.

The active participation I had to exert in order to understand character and story ought to serve as a potent rebuttal to Susan Sontag’s claim that film is a “fascist form,” guiding the viewer towards fixed systems of meaning.  Here, Slaboshpytskiy rarely moves the camera unless a character is walking, never cuts unless the scene changes, and always keep the camera at a safe, long shot distance from the action.  His aesthetic matches the nature of “The Tribe” perfectly, ensuring there is no passive way to consume this film.

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