Monday, 8 September 2014

THE TRIBE (aka PLEMYA) - TIFF 2014 (TIFF Discovery) - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Russia's continued oppression of Ukraine batters
the most vulnerable members of society.
The Tribe (2014)
(aka Plemya/плем'я)
Dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Starring: Yana Novikova, Grigoriy Fesenko, Rosa Babiy,
Alexander Dsiadevich, Yaroslav Biletskiy, Ivan Tishko, Alexander Sidelnikov

Review By Greg Klymkiw

One of the most appalling legacies of Russian colonization/dictatorship over the country of Ukraine has, in recent years, been the sexual exploitation of women (often children and teenagers). Add all the poverty and violence coursing through the nation's soul, much of it attributable to Mother Russia's tentacles of corruption, organized crime and twisted notions of law, order and government, that it's clearly not rocket science to realize how threatening the Russian regime is, not only to Ukraine, but the rest of Eastern Europe and possibly, beyond.

Being a Ukrainian-Canadian who has spent a lot of time in Ukraine, especially in the beleaguered Eastern regions, I've witnessed first-hand the horrible corruption and exploitation. (Ask me sometime about the Russian pimps who wait outside Ukrainian orphanages for days when teenage girls are released penniless into the world, only to be coerced into rust-bucket vans and dispatched to God knows where.)

The Tribe is a homespun indigenous Ukrainian film that is a sad, shocking and undeniably harrowing dramatic reflection of Ukraine with the searingly truthful lens of a stylistic documentary treatment (at times similar to that of Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl).

Focusing upon children, the most vulnerable victims of Russia's aforementioned oppression, this is a film that you'll simply never forget.

Set in a special boarding school, writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, paints an evocative portrait of students living within a tribal societal structure (literally as per the title) where adult supervision is minimal at best and even culpable in the desecration of youth. Living in an insular world, carved out by years of developing survival skills in this institutional environment, the kids have a long-established criminal gang culture and they engage in all manner of nefarious activities including, but not limited to thieving, black marketeering and pimping.

Slaboshpytskiy's mise-en-scène includes long, superbly composed shots and a stately, but never dull pace. This allows the film's audience to contemplate - in tandem with the narrative's forward movement - both the almost matter-of-fact horrors its young protagonists accept, live with and even excel at while also getting a profound sense of the ebbs and flows of life in this drab, dingy institutional setting. In a sense, the movie evokes life as it actually unfolds (or, at least, seems to).

The violence is often brutal and the film never shies away from explicit sexual frankness. We watch the beautiful teenage girls being pimped out at overnight truck stops, engaging in degrading acts of wham-bam without protection, perpetrated against their various orifices by truckers who shell out cash for the privilege of doing so. As well, we experience how the same girls are cum-receptacles for their fellow male students, delivering blow-jobs or intercourse when it's required.

On occasion, we witness consensual, pleasurable lovemaking, but it always seems tempered by the fact that it's the only physical and emotional contact these children, of both sexes, have ever, ow will ever experience. Even more harrowing is when we follow the literal results of this constant sexual activity and witness a necessary, protracted, pain-wracked scene wherein one young lady seeks out and receives an unsanitary and painful abortion.

While there are occasional moments of tenderness, especially in a romance that blossoms between one young boy and girl, there's virtually no sense of hope that any of these children will ever escape the cycles of abuse, aberrant behaviour and debasement that rules their lives. The performances elicited by Slaboshpytskiy are so astonishing, you're constantly in amazement over how naturalistic and reflective of life these young actors are, conveying no false notes with the kind of skill and honesty one expects from far more seasoned players.

The special circumstances these children are afflicted with also allows Slaboshpytskiy to bravely and brilliantly tell his story completely though the purest of cinematic approaches. Visuals and actions are what drive the film and ultimately prove to be far more powerful than words ever could be. Chances are very good that you'll realize what you're seeing is so wholly original that you'll ultimately sit there, mouth agape at the notion that what you're seeing on-screen is unlike anything you will have ever seen before.

Try, if you can, to see the film without seeing or reading anything about it. Your experience will be all the richer should you choose to go in and see it this way. Even if you don't adhere to this, the movie is overflowing with touches and incidents in which you'll feel you're seeing something just as original. The Tribe evokes a world of silence and suffering that is also perversely borderline romantic, a world where connections and communication are key elements to add some variation to a youth culture that is as entrenched as it is ultimately constant and, frankly, inescapable.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5-Stars, highest rating.

The Tribe is being distributed in the USA and Canada via Drafthouse Films and Films We Like. It's enjoying its North American premiere in the TIFF Discovery series at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014. For tix, times and venues, visit the TIFF website by clicking HERE.