International Cinema: The Tribe (2014)

Ms. Kisner reviews The Tribe. 

This is some weird fetish crap.
It’s impossible to describe the premise of The Tribe without sounding like a pretentious film snob. The Tribe is filmed entirely with deaf actors using Ukrainian sign language and is presented with no subtitles. There is zero spoken word during the movie, though the ambient background noises are still present. While this could be taken as a parody of what people think arthouse films are like, it is actually far from the truth. Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy manages to make a watchable and downright mesmerizing film despite the lack of spoken dialogue.

The film takes place in a boarding school for deaf teenagers and centers around a young man who is new to the school. He gets swept into a gang of boys who are into nefarious criminal activities to include theft and even pimping out some of the girls who are also attending the school. Since everything is in sign language, it’s up to the viewer to piece together what is going on by using context and body language. In this way, The Tribe functions as a modern version of a silent film because the actors use their entire bodies to emote and convey ideas. I found myself starting to pay attention to different aspects of the actors after a while—things like: their stance, how they were using their hands, and how close or far away they were standing. It was surprising how easily I could follow what was going on even though I was missing specific details about the characters (like even their names).

So, are you George, John, Paul or Ringo?
I can't tell. 
What stands out the most in this film is the excellent camerawork. Each scene is like its own little short story or vignette and has a flow and style. There are several amazing tracking shots and some outstanding wide shots that enhance the intensity of the movie. Speaking of intensity, The Tribe is not an easy watch. It’s brutal and visceral with some truly disturbing sequences. It reminds me of Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) in that it has disaffected youth who are running rampart without adult supervision. There is also a lot of sexual intercourse depicted and not all of it is consensual. That being said, it’s not used for exploitation purposes but as an unflinching look into the world of young adults. It has a documentary feel to the proceedings though the fancy camera work belies this notion.

All of the actors in the film are completely convincing in their roles. There is a sort of love story between two of the characters and although you can’t understand any of the conversations they have with each other the passion they feel for one another is completely palpable. When a person goes deaf or is born deaf, they are essentially cut-off from the world because of their inability to communicate with other people. In The Tribe, the audience gets to have a taste of what this feels like because they cannot understand the sign language being used by the actors. This irony is what makes this film so intriguing to experience.  We are outsiders to their world just as they are outsiders to ours.

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-Michelle Kisner