Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s feature-film debut The Tribe won’t hit U.S. theaters until June 17, but here at The Dissolve, we’re already bracing ourselves for its impact. Winner of three Critics’ Week awards at last year’s Cannes, the film’s been hailed by critics as an “unprecedented cinematic accomplishment" (IndieWire), but one that’s “relentlessly bleak and brutal” (List Film) and “deeply disturbing” (The Oregonian)—“a film whose surface rigour conceals a litany of shocks” (Little White Lies).
Set inside a Ukrainian boarding school for the deaf, The Tribe follows new student Sergey as he descends into a dark world of gangs, prostitution, and hazing. It’s unflinching in its depiction of all three, with long, lingering shots of violence both emotional and physical. But what really sets The Tribe apart—you know, outside of the fact that it will make you want to cover your eyes with your hands forever—is that it contains no audible dialogue, only sign language and occasional sound effects, with no subtitles or voiceovers; Slaboshpytskiy provides a pre-credits warning that assures viewers they won’t be able to make sense of everything. As Andrew Lapin wrote for The Dissolve, “It’s a crucial part of The Tribe’s cinematic experience that characters speak to each other in ways that aren’t translated to the audience. The film’s story has broad and bold outlines, and long takes and harrowing explicit imagery fill the gaps that the lack of dialogue creates, meaning we are never completely in the dark. The Tribe hearkens back to the silent era, but its untranslated nuances set it apart from traditional silent films.”
Today, we’re bringing you exclusive stills from The Tribe, accompanied by commentary and on-set anecdotes from Slaboshpytskiy himself. Peel your fingers from your eyelids for a few minutes to take in these gloomily beautiful scenes:
You know, in France, one of the reasons there is an age limitation on watching The Tribe was the absence of the adults who would influence the students [in the film], according to the French special rating commission. Though it is not exactly so. Adults are present there. When I was a teenager, the adults did not practically influence my life. I made a movie about the life of the Tribe. And I told the story of the Tribe. At the script development stage, the problem of too few lessons in the film worried me. And I re-watched about two dozen school dramas. And I came to a conclusion that there should be no more lessons shown. That is, I concluded to cut from the story all that was unnecessary. But I saved this one. Because it is a particular lesson—the first lesson in the school year. According to the Soviet Union tradition, all schools begin the year with a so-called Lesson Of Peace. That is a geo-political topic. This habit is a heritage of the USSR. We found a marvelous actress—Ludmila Rudenko. She is a hearing person and she works as sign language interpreter on TV.
Sergey is a newcomer; for the first time, he discovers the structure of this school, its customs and rites. We move and discover all of these together with him. In this scene, we become witnesses of the initiation ritual. Most people say that this scene is very well done in choreographic case. I think I agree, but… maybe even too choreographic, too much. The actors had rehearsed two weeks with the best stunt director of Ukraine, Aleksandr Filatov. He is perfect! But I would like to get the fight like a battle on the street. I should choreograph this battle myself.
One more crazy night shooting. We started inside the bus and finished in the truck parking lot. One shot. No editing. First we were looking for suitable parking, then [needed] to find a start place. It was not too easy to meet the ends. Actresses Yana Novikova and Rosa Babiy play it very good. They rehearsed this many times, initially just inside the standing bus which was shaked by members of the crew. During the shooting the girls were dressed and ready on time, never were late.
This is the climax; protagonist Sergey too much pushed past limits by members’ tribe. He now must do what is necessary to make right many wrongs. This scene was challenge because, like so much film, it was shot in night and I want light is perfect. I want image of once innocent but now corrupt Sergey silhouette perfect from darkness of boarding school and whiteness of snow. To get this look just right during night very difficult, but we pulled off.
So this is the dormitory of the boarding school. Sergey come in. This is start, first visit in his new home. I was looking for perfect location for my film for a year. I explored all boarding schools in Kiev and suburbs and eventually I came back in school where I studied myself. But it was a usual school, no boarding school. There are no dormitories. And we concluded that we need to make this. We managed to arrange it, God bless the principal. We built dormitories in the class places. We brought out of classes all furnitures, tables, chairs. We built new walls, we painted it. Teachers were horrified. Afterward we removed decoration and gave all of school’s belongings back in class rooms.
I would not say that Sergey could not adapt himself to the school underworld. It seems to me that he is quite successful with getting fit in the collective and even goes up the hierarchical ladder. In this place, we see that Sergey reveals his abilities for it. He became as a security guard for this nasty guy, called Shnyr. Shnyr is an caretaker and tax collector of The King. His responsibilities:
It was a long shot, like a lot of the others. In first part of the scene, Sergey and girls return to the school; in the second one, Anya and Sergey walking through the backyard of the school, along the wall. Sergey fell in love, it happened recently, in previous scene. And he trying to buy love off her. So the third part of the scene [is] the first sex between Sergey and Anya. We rehearsed about 20 times, at first with the clothes on and later without any. By the way, our main actors Yana and Grigory met first time during the rehearsal of this scene. When we actually shot the scene it was the first snowy day, so it was frosty cold. Yana went home, she was running temperature. I was terrified and sent my assistant to spend the night with Yana. I myself came to visit and brought food for her. On the following day Yana was as fit as a fiddle.