The Tribe Review. The Dark World of the Deaf.

The Tribe Review from Fantastic Fest. Is Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Film a Triumph or Exploitation?

What to say about The Tribe? Let’s start with this: it’s a very difficult film to watch in every respect. It’s a Ukrainian film entirely cast with deaf-mutes, most of them non-actors. There is no speaking in the film and no soundtrack, only ambient noise, and no subtitles, only sign language. It’s also terribly grim and brutal, and it’s unlike any movie you will ever see.

First time Ukrainian feature writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s film seems daunting from description, a 2-hour and ten minute movie featuring only deaf-mutes with no names. However, the movie is transfixing from the opening scene, and somehow through actions and reactions, you know what is unfolding before you. After a few moments you’re so engrossed you don’t even miss what’s not there.

The narrative follows young Sergey (though he’s only named in the credits) as he arrives at a boarding school for the deaf. Once there, he’s quickly inducted with the cool kids, who also just so happen to be small time criminals. Among money extortion and robbery, their ringleader also has the school’s slimy shop teacher and one of his boys pimping out two energetic female students at trucks stops to drivers on night break. After said boy is accidentally killed, Sergey takes over as pimp. Quickly smitten with the blonde, Anna, he forges an intense romance with her that causes him and the group to come undone. The result is brutal and uncompromising, and absolutely unforgettable.

The Tribe scene

The Tribe is haunting in so many ways. In each scene, the camera rarely cuts, leaving you watching the more light-hearted bits (like the boys joking around and drinking) in just as much detail as the more gruesome ones (no spoilers on that). From the bleak and dismal setting of the crumbling boarding house to the sad and dirt covered pathways of the dark truck stop, the mysterious desires of the characters leave you with a certain amount of dread. At any moment something awful could happen. With the ambient sound cut with the precision of a master mixer, you are dipped in this film in every way possible.

It also has to be said the two leads here are mesmerizing. First timers Grigory Fesenko as Sergey and Yana Novikova as Anna (again, named in credit only) turn in performances worthy of actors with twice their experience. Their frustration, excitement, anger, and heartbreak are distilled within their body language, the rapidity of hand gestures and hardly audible grunts, their facials expressions conveying the story in a way that asks the audience to actively engage with what’s before them. In one of the graphic sex scenes, their post-coital conversation brings to mind other, more lighthearted coming of age scenes from movies like The Last Picture Show or Breaking Away, had the characters been deaf criminals. Anna also endures (SPOILER) a one take abortion in a skuzzy apartment bathtub. You view the action from the side with no cuts, only Anna’s leg blocking the actual procedure, and it is perhaps one of the most shocking scenes in recent cinema. That, coupled with the jaw-dropping final moments, will all leave you wanting a hot shower when you get home.

Given the bleak overtones of the movie, and the brutality of its characters, along with the nature of the film itself, this is not something for everyone. Is it deaf exploitation or art house fare? I’d say it’s a little of both. The grittier, more harrowing moments leave you questioning what the fuck you’ve just watched, but the technical and artful innovation of the filmmaking leave you with so much more. This is, in some controversial aspects, a masterpiece. If you do choose this journey, make no mistake that it will remain with you long after the credits role, and long into the following days.

See the trailer here: