The Tribe – Movie Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Writer: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Stars: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy
It’s clear from the outset that Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s film The Tribe will not be a comfortable ride. Performed entirely in sign language with no subtitles, voice over, or explanations, the audience are forced to pay attention to every gesture and detail in order to follow the action.
The Tribe focuses on deaf student Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) – like the rest of the cast, we only learn the character’s name in the end credits. As the new boy at a state run boarding school for the deaf, Sergey becomes quickly initiated into its gang-controlled underworld.
Outside brief glimpses of the classroom, the students are left to govern themselves, and the setting is reminiscent of a prison in which the inmates have the keys. There’s a clear hierarchy controlled by money, violence, and almost complete lack of empathy; but when Sergey falls for one of the girls who they regularly pimp out at a truck stop, the school’s delicate balance is upset, and the violence escalates further.
The silence of the characters’ world is emphasised only by the squeaking of doors, and the crunch of snow under foot. With no soundtrack or orchestral score to guide the audience’s emotion, and very little outpouring of feelings from the protagonists, we are left as powerless voyeurs to the action. This is emphasised by cinematographer Valentyn Vasyanovych’s uncomfortably long single-shot scenes, which don’t shy away from the challenging details of sex, violence, and even a particularly harrowing abortion.
Though it’s difficult to interpret some of the finer details, the overall plot is surprisingly easy to follow. In fact, understanding every single word may actually have lessened some of the film’s intensity. The Tribe is an immensely difficult film to watch, but once you’ve recovered, it’s definitely worth it.