The Tribe Movie Review
“This film is in sign language. There are no translations, no subtitles, no voice-over.”
If this information/warning that THE TRIBE presents prior to the film intrigues you, stick around. If not, exit now.
Winning all kinds of awards on the film festival circuit, THE TRIBE (Plemya) is an independent film from the Ukraine presented by Drafthouse Films. This little arthouse picture is picking up all sorts of buzz as it was cast entirely with hearing impaired, non-professional actors. This idea is fascinating and effective playing more than a gimmick within the context of the film. However, the story presented is one that I would not like no matter what language it came in.
Grigori Fesenko plays a new student at a boarding school for the deaf. After a quick introduction to the principal and one class, the character is quickly exposed to a corrupt underbelly involving both teachers and students. Gang violence, drugs, theft and prostitution are just some of the major corruptions in this dark world. The lead character quickly falls in love with one of the female escorts, festering a jealous obsessed violent rage, which seems to match the overall immoral backbone of every character in the picture.
I’m not familiar with the Ukranian boarding schools for the deaf to understand the extent of this brutally sad environment. But I did question many aspects within the story – The film quickly ignores the schooling aspect as if they were no longer at a boarding school and it ignores other senses that might affect character reactions despite the inability to hear. Director and writer Miroslav Slaboshpitsky is deliberate with his technique, choosing long steady camera shots that follow and pause the action without cutting away. While at times the cinematography was masterful, other times it was downright distracting, drawing attention to itself rather than the scene. Much of this is due to the fact that many of the scenes are not that important. The ability to understand each scene without the ability to hear or read the dialogue was surprisingly easy, like an old silent film, but this also defeats the purpose of a 132-minute runtime where the camera over extends scenes consisting of standing, walking, and long conversations.
The silence is effectively utilized as this world is full of characters who can’t hear, occasionally playing to their demise. From a film student perspective, THE TRIBE has technical merit worth noting, but the story is much like the 1995’s controversial KIDS, which I found to be counterproductive to its message. THE TRIBE is a bloody, violent and sexually graphic film, none of which seems entirely necessary. While an unsafe abortion scene might stick with the viewer long after the film ends, the negative emotions that it provokes lack substantial reason other than to shock. Looking past that would not only be inappropriate but also an unfair criticism.
I’m sure THE TRIBE will be one to look for in the Best Foreign film category during the Oscar nominations due to its impressively unique technical aspect. While I admire THE TRIBE’s unconventional approach, the nature of the film is one that I would never recommend to anyone.