Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s debut feature may be among the most frustrating film in years, for a select group of film-goers. Those select film-goers being the general public, but this movie seems to have been made for a specific type or person, the Arthouse snob. The Tribe is a beautifully shot and authentic feeling european film that harkens back to the silent era mixed in with the harsh reality of now. Make no mistake, The Tribe is, on the surface, an incredibly pretentious film, but it also stays increasingly fascinating over the course of the 2 hour and 20 minute running time. It turns out that making a movie using only Ukraine Sign Language isn’t as off putting as it sounds.
The Tribe revolves around a group of deaf teenagers at a boarding school specifically for their disability. Within this school is the aforementioned group and their crimes that include; prostitution, trafficking, influence in the drug trade, etc. Sergey has just arrived and almost immediately initiated into the group. Along the way, we’re introduced to the two prostitutes he will escort later on in the film and how his connection to one of them will set off a series of events that take us toward the incredibly graphic climax of the film.
And The Tribe is graphic. In recent years, violence has become a staple of surprise in Arthouse film and that doesn’t change here. Between backroom abortions to bloody violence, there isn’t anything here that will be surprising to most people that are aware of this story, but they will surely be cringing. And the cringe doesn’t just stop there. Awkward sex scenes are abundant in The Tribe. The sex portrayed here is drawn-out and sterile. Nothing here is portrayed with glamour and happiness aside from an eerily sweet scene during the 69 position.
Despite all this, Slaboshpytskiy still manages to bring an innocence to the main character and his misdeeds. These people are still teenagers after all, and with their decisions come disastrous consequences. These people, despite their disability, have all the same issues with selfishness and apathy that others do. The Tribe paints them no differently than any other movie would without their characters being deaf. Equality is alive, it might not be the most positive kind, but it’s here. These teens are here to fight and survive on the same landscape as any of us.
The elephant in the room throughout the runtime is whether the film can pull off the ambitiousness of having no dialogue. While it is certainly a gimmick, the film makes it feel almost seamless in execution and while trying to read a scene at first will prove difficult, especially with how long they can be, scenes later on will illuminate their reason for being there. While I don’t think the movie would play nearly as well without those moments and would probably be very trite and superfluous in moments, Slaboshpytskiy pits these moments far enough apart that it really doesn’t matter.
The Tribe is first and foremost, a cinematic stunt that only succeeds by its execution, but it also makes it that much better because of that. The audience can relate due to their action, or inaction in some cases, to certain situations and inserts themselves in those instances. Slaboshpytskiy made a film that is tailor made for that kind of interaction. It’s all about how the translation between the audience and the film, but in this case, multiplied by 1000.