The plot bears the conventions of your typical rising up the ranks gangster movie, but how do we fathom and engage with the ensuing action? Certain details remain obscure and even upon my second viewing I was still in the dark. We are trained to understand the narrative through each character’s gestures. By familiarising ourselves with the expressive intensity of sign language we begin to acknowledge this form of communication (this being Ukrainian sign language) on an emotional level. From contempt to tenderness and light amusement, all is transmitted via brisk hand movements. You can even gauge certain attributes by their physiognomy. For example, the wavy gesticulations and haughty countenance of a blond-haired goon infer him as being the archetypal classroom jerk.
Symbols of other kinds are shown when our leading figure offers a wad of cash to the uptight prostitute, implying his carnal urge. In a later sex scene, the smitten boy provides his petite beau with more money, suggestive of payment for their latest engagement. Once the truth behind this action is revealed something far more terrifying transpires that will leave your chest in a tight knot for some time after.
Sticking to a lean diet of long-takes, the camera seamlessly muscles its way from static shots to a relentlessly prowling Steadicam that follows students, often into complex group setups. A kid riding a bicycle apace, signalling a group of other scoundrels in a park, guides us into the sequence. Running out of frame, a small legion of older boys emerges, militantly striding in a line for a brawl. When the spectacle ends, the same youngster casually cycles away. Both the physically intense choreography of actors (who are all deaf non-professionals) and incessant camera movements (I can recall three takes that remained entirely still) are a bracing watch.
With an all-round wayward conviction, Slaboshpytskiy and his team ask us to rethink what filmic storytelling was and can still be. Having only ran the festival circuit so far it feels as if The Tribe has already secured cult status and will definitely be popular amongst current and future film lovers. Hanging dangerously on the edge of being a formal novelty for some, this is a boldly innovative distillation of cinematic expression, blending the past with a progressive, thoroughly disquieting, vision.