The Tribe ★★★½


Film #12 of 30 in my March Around The World | 2017 Challenge (Ukraine)

Now here's a challenging film ... it's presented entirely in Ukranian sign language, with no translations, no subtitles, no voice-over and no background music. It was writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi's first full-length feature, and it won him three different awards at Cannes, plus a Golden Camera nomination.

One day a high-schooler named Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) arrives by bus, suitcase in hand, at a residential school for deaf mutes. During his first day there, he is robbed, punked by classmates and tossed out of his dorm room. We soon learn that outside the classroom, the students are organized into gangs and factions, involved in theft, prostitution and extortion.

For Sergey to find a place within this thuggish hierarchy, he must endure some hazing and an initiation which includes brawling with other gang members. Fortunately, he's good with his fists and acquits himself well. He participates in organized robberies and shakedowns of younger students, while the gang leaders sell the services of two girls to drivers at overnight truck stops.

Such behavior isn't without risks, of course, and it's just a matter of time till one of Sergey's mentors ends up dead. But in a way, that's good for the newbie, because he moves up in the pecking order to take the victim's place, pimping at the truck stops. Trouble starts, however, when Sergei begins to fall for one of the girls named Anya (Yana Novikova). Of course, she ends up pregnant, and he ends up back on the bottom of the heap among his bros.

Ignoring the protests of her best friend Svetka (Rosa Babiy), Anya goes to an abortionist, who (in a painfully graphic scene) takes care of her over a bathtub in some of the most unsanitary conditions you can imagine. Meanwhile, the girls have applied for passports and visas to Italy with the help of a shady lawyer.

The last 20 minutes are full of violence, from robbery to rape, a beating and murder. This is probably not the "deaf mute" experience most folks would think of, but a terrific reminder of how tribal and ruthless humans can be under any circumstances. Watch it at your own risk, one eye closed if necessary, but watch it, by all means.

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