Pro: Silence is golden
Performed entirely in sign language without complementary subtitles, The Tribe is one of the most daring cinematic experiments in recent memory and it pays off big time. Austere, enigmatic, simmering with a quiet menace, it’s two-plus hours spent in a pressure cooker with an inevitably explosive ending.
Beyond the setting of an educational institute for the deaf and mute, and the fact that there’s some serious bullying going on around campus, we don’t understand much of what’s happening. From the moment our unnamed hero arrives at the silent compound, however, you find yourself in the grip of a terribly clever filmmaker who composes such expressive, eloquent images they give you enough clues to piece together your own narrative. The various non-verbal forms of communication, meanwhile, demonstrate vividly just how much we all have in common, down to the most despicable of motivations and the most barbaric of intents.
Airlessly intense with a constant promise of bad things to come, this dramatic thriller offers a singular movie-going experience that mystifies as much as it mesmerises and shocks. However ugly things get, you can’t take your eyes off the screen. ZS
Con: Deaf and dumb
A controversial festival hit, Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe is the rather bleak tale of an unnamed deaf teenager (Fesenko) who, after making his way through the post-apocalyptic streets of Kiev, starts at a new boarding school. Overrun by gangs, it’s a violent, criminal demimonde of thieves, pimps and prostitutes. And for Ukraine, The Tribe is a piercing cry against the country’s dystopia of crime and emigration, an outraged scream against its lack of leadership and control.
But it’s a shout that’s been silenced. Filmed entirely in sign language, Slaboshpitsky refuses to subtitle his deaf characters – a conceit that keeps his tribe at arm’s length. And while we might overlook this disdain for his viewers’ understanding, the absence of subtitles turns his deaf characters into gesturing clowns – occasionally laughable, largely unintelligible and deprived of agency. Instead of subjects, the tribe members become objects to be gawked at, and Slaboshpitsky’s narrative suffers, incomprehensible in its detail, delivering instead a tale sketched in broad strokes with neither subtlety nor finesse. Reduced frustratingly to one single idea, The Tribe is a distasteful half-story content with playing dumb. MW
The Tribe | Directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky (Ukraine 2014) with Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova. Starts October 15