Polished yet brutally raw, this Ukrainian sign language film is an audacious piece of cinema.
Dir. Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
2014 | Ukraine | Drama/Crime | 132 mins | 2.35:1 | Ukrainian Sign Language & Ukrainian
R21 (passed clean) for graphic nudity, explicit sexual content and disturbing violence.
Cast: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy
Plot: A deaf teenager struggles to fit into the boarding school system.
Awards: Won Critics Week Grand Prize & Nom. for Camera d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Alpha Violet
Subject Matter: Disturbing/Heavy
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector – Singapore International Festival of Arts 2015
First Published: 29 Jun 2015
Never have I seen a film like this before. The Tribe is one of 2014’s great discoveries, an astounding piece of cinema that not only leaves you completely floored, but is a beneficiary of the medium’s continuous search for new possibilities of expression and communication.
We have Miroslav Slaboshpitsky to thank for. In only his first feature, the Ukrainian writer-director gives us what could be the world’s first fiction sign-language film. It has no dialogue, no subtitles and no voiceover narration, playing out like a silent film except for its rich ambient sounds.
Although individual scenes may leave us struggling to make sense of the characters’ communication, we are always clear of their motivations. What unfolds is a picture of immense narrative clarity, made up of parts of incomprehensibility – that is its sheer brilliance.
The Tribe follows a guy who enrolls in the local school of the deaf and mute, unwittingly joining a gang of uncouth youths with similar disabilities who discreetly engage in crime including assault and prostitution – they are the tribe.
All the actors are deaf and the film makes no use of any vocal language nor even subtitles, only sign language throughout.
Slaboshpitsky’s use of the Steadicam is breathtaking in what appears to be one long take after another; there are no cuts and each scene functions as a full sequence. We as audiences are sucked into their space, a vacuum of documentary-like realism that is polished in its execution, but brutally raw in its depiction.
Well, not the first time, I’m baffled by the Media Development Authority, my country’s resident snipper, who didn’t demand for cuts. So what glorious joy for the cine-advocates to experience the film in its complete, uncompromising form.
Audacious in its portrayal of emotions – betrayal, jealousy, love (possibly lust), and hate – all without the use of words, The Tribe boasts outstanding performances, particularly by Yana Novikova, who plays one of two main girls the ‘tribe’ takes advantage of to pursue prostitution and casual sex.
There’s explicit nudity and some mind-numbing violence – shocking as they are, these are sequences key to the cinematic experience, and experienced filmgoers would be sure to note that Slaboshpitsky has no intentions to sensationalize.
After all, the use of long takes – excruciating they may be but largely compelling to behold, are the vessels to which a seemingly never-ending disturbing poetry of images become privy to the viewer. We observe. We are shocked. But why should we be, such is human nature?