The Tribe: NZFF Review
This year's confrontational offering from the New Zealand International Film Festival is Ukranian and trying, at best, in parts.
Focussing on a new entrant to a boarding school, it's the tale of a gang of occasionally feral boys and two girls who end up working tricks for truck drivers.
However, here's the rub with The Tribe - and it's a great hook and something inventive, which is why film festivals are crucial; every single person in the film uses sign language, there are no subtitles and there are no voiceover.
So, to say it's in your face and confrontational already is no understatement - and I'm sure it's what director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy intended.
But then given that the brutalising and extremist story plays out in ways that forces you to concentrate on the body language and expressive nature of the actors is perhaps to distract from some of the downfalls of the film.
Shorn of the traditional constraints of the way movies are told and characters developed, it's hard to get to grips with the boys and to even go along with their actions. The newcomer to the group adopts easily to the clique's way of life, stalking their prey and viciously mugging a shopper before revelling in their spoils in a playground is as much a slap in your face as one of the characters repeatedly gets.
Equally, the treatment of the girls is intensely depressing and difficult to watch - one scene involving one of them ranks as the hardest thing I've had to watch at a festival for years; the whimpers and sobs as something plays out were horrifically difficult to behold and incredibly distressing.
Some of the problem with The Tribe comes with its alienation and the unfolding horror of what they're upto, rather than its characterisation.
There's no light with this piece, no scenes of school bonding and you get none of the context you need to invest in this ferocious foursome as they head out on the prowl - and by the same token, there are plenty of scenes where the same thing happens that the repetition becomes frustrating. (Even an attempted love story provides very little in the way of positivity) Several extraneous scenes could have been excised - and the shocking ending is an exercise in moral repugnance as the powderkeg explodes.
With no OST and only the ambient sounds to match the signing, it feels like you're distanced from a lot of this movie - as if you're privvy to conversations not meant for your ears.
Perhaps in some ways, that's a good thing - while this flick's picked up awards on the overseas circuit, it's nothing short of a troubling watch.
There may be no spoken language within, but there's certainly enough sound and bluster in The Tribe to make it the NZIFF's most difficult and divisive experience this year. However, the fact that it even exists and is shown in a festival like this is a testament to the NZIFF's raison d'etre.