Taking the viewer deep inside a Manila slum blighted by drugs and gang violence, “Tribe” is a disturbing snapshot of a community in chaos. Drawing instant comparison to the much slicker and more broadly scoped “City of God,” helmer Jim Libiran’s debut feature has the raw power to make its own distinct mark. Winner of the top prize at Cinemalaya, ultra-realistic pic should have a lengthy fest life and could interest specialized broadcasters. In lieu of formal domestic distribution, Libiran plans to take the film on the road himself.
Frantic opening posits 10-year-old Ebet (Kal Eigger Balingit) as voiceover narrator and observer of life in the notorious Tondo slum, a place where parents regularly outlive their children. As he puts it, “Most people here are bums, and they’re bums because they’re poor.” First seen watching a frenzied street march honoring the district’s patron saint, the boy keeps company with the Thugz Angels gang and casually witnesses their everyday drug use and brutal initiation rituals.
Storyline follows a straightforward path as the Thugz Angels are mistakenly blamed for the murder of a rival, and leader Makoy (O.G. Sacred) musters forces for all-out warfare. En route to the fiery finale, auds bear witness to an unrelenting depiction of how the grinding cycle of poverty and severely dysfunctional family life draws children into crime.
Hard to forget are images of a betrayed wife attacking her husband with a knife in public and kids not much older than Ebet wandering the streets with guns. Cast with real members of half a dozen local gangs, pic is utterly and tragically convincing.
Powered by hip-hop made up on the spot — too much for non-fans of the musical form — the film moves swiftly to a conclusion that will perhaps disappoint those insisting on optimistic outcomes, but one that is entirely appropriate and consistent with what’s come before.
Lensed largely at night with available light sources, pic’s visuals are crisp and sound quality is crystal-clear in challenging locations. Rest of tech work is solid.