As many of you might already know, including my movie meetup and discussion group whom I now see movies with weekly. I have what some may call somewhat of a unique approach to how I pick and choose what films I see. It’s really a rather simple one from my perspective that starts by following press on all of the major festivals that take place throughout the year. Festivals like Cannes (you can pretty much guarantee that if a movie premieres and is well received at Cannes, I will be seeing it later that year or whenever it gets released in the US), New York, Toronto, Sundance, Berlin, and Venice I keep on my radar all year, and then from that point I devise a list of whatever was well received at such and such festival. And that pretty much sums up how my list gets generated. Now there are some exceptions, like films from directors that I admire who choose not to premiere their films at any of the major festivals. Whic applies but is uncharacteristic and is somewhat of a rarity. But even more importantly, this “method” or “approach” to picking films opens up many doors to some of the more lesser known titles that do well at their festival premieres, but unfortunately just don’t seem marketable to a wide audience (and some might say aren’t meant to be). A lot of these are foreign. And each year there’s a pretty substantial list of about 15-20 foreign films that I flag that were well received at some of these festivals, many of them garnering nominations in several categories, and others who wind up winning. Those seem to be the ones I take a closer look at and almost always will add them to my list of movies to see whenever they wind being released here in the States.
Such was the case with “The Tribe”. A film that first caught my attention when it won multiple awards (3 out of the 4 it was nominated for) at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Second, and what struck me most, was that it had what appeared to be a rather unique concept – which was (and I quote) – “a movie that unfolds through the non-verbal acting and sign language from a cast of deaf, non-professional actors—with no need for subtitles or voiceover—resulting in a unique, never-before-experienced cinematic event that engages the audience on a new sensory level.” At first I thought to myself – “wait a minute…so basically a contemporary take on the “silent film”?. So while it certainly piqued my interest I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. Then I kept reading one good thing after another after another about it and decided to myself that there must be something here of value. Knowing little to next to nothing about it other than the 3 awards it picked up at Cannes, the film’s highly original concept, and seeing the kind of trailer that I love but are rare nowadays in that it told you little to next to nothing about it, I jumped at the opportunity to see it during its 1-night/1 show limited engagement here in Portland.
“The Tribe” was nothing like I had ever seen before. It was a total immersive experience into the world of the all deaf characters that inhabited the film. It also totally went against any expectations or preconceived notions that I had going into it. What worked for me here on almost every level is the filmmaker’s ability to engage the audience and keep them on the edge of their seats throughout its entire 2+ hour duration. A mighty difficult task to do taking into account that it revolves around a group or “tribe” (i.e. a gang) of deaf Ukrainian boys in a boarding school (if you even want to even call it a “school” – those who see it will know what I mean) that spend little to no time in class (why would you if there’s nobody there to tell you to?). You see, to expand on the story much further would give away some key spoilers that could potentially ruin it for those who plan to see it. But what I will say is that in this this particular school its boys and girls operate and function in the furthest possible realm of anything you could imagine of what we deem as a proper school. Which forced and challenged the audience to guess what it really all revolved around. It’s a stunning achievement given the many shapes and forms the story takes on as it unfolds, and it brings you deeper and deeper into something you just might not thought possible. The cinematography is beautiful, with long tracking shots and very few edits that really allow the viewer unprecedented access into the proceedings. It’s somewhat of a “deaf crime film” that was incredibly intense; never mind highly controversial, with its highly explicit sex scenes and unspeakable acts of violence in its final act that I almost had to look away from (really). In trying to keep this short as again to not give away any spoilers, “The Tribe” wound up being the most truly unique experiences I’ve had at the theater so far this year, and I walked away from it speechless. It’s a master work of foreign cinema, and it should easily earn a spot on my list of the best films at year’s end.