The Tribe

The Tribe ★★½

The Tribe poses a number of challenges for even the most experienced of film fans. A Ukrainian sign language film released without subtitles, it refuses to conform to the standard practice of finding a middle ground to communicate its message to the audience. Instead, we are inducted into a boarding school for young deaf people and asked to understand the world on their terms alone.

We join Sergey at the start as he navigates his way to the school, following him into class as he settles down for a first lesson. Before he has even had a chance to find his room, Sergey is pulled aside by a member of a gang, who we learn later are committed to far more than studying for their grades. Before long he is a key member of the group, involved in an unexpectedly murky world.

Director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's approach to telling the story is certainly a unique one. The idea is to no doubt remove the barrier of language and understand the characters and their world through the nuances of movement and interaction with each other. The problem this leaves the director is forming a simple narrative that can still be understood without dialogue, yet enticing enough to keep us engaged. He achieves the former easily but does so in a dull, sensationalist manner that nullifies any sense of intrigue.

Whether these kids are being thrown around, hit with bricks, slapping each other, raped, aborting babies or pimping out fellow students, the in-your-face approach is relentless. Our senses take as much of pummelling as their own and the bluntness wears thin very quickly. Whilst Slaboshpitsky has expert control over the steady movement of his frame, the long unflinching takes are too repetitive and prove to be an endurance test to sit through.

It is hard to know if the high-concept approach has insulated it from receiving too much criticism. There is maybe a case to view this angry community, involved in and surrounded by such bleakness, as an analogy for the current political landscape in Ukraine. Yet that is never made as explicitly clear as the cruelness they inflict on each other. Told in such broad strokes we are left on the periphery, making it two sets of people failing to understand each other.

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