The Tribe Movie Review
Written by Richelle Charkot
Released by Drafthouse Films
Written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
2014, 130 minutes, Rated R
Yana Novikova as Anna
Rosa Babiy as Svetka
Hryhoriy Fesenko as Serhiy
Like a lot of people, I prefer to go into a film knowing nothing about it so my opinions can be completely my own and not at all tainted or swayed. So, when I walked into the Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival completely unaware of what The Tribe was about, I was good and totally unprepared for the emotional ride that was ahead of me. I had no idea that the entire film was in sign language, with no subtitles or dubbing (as someone who doesn’t understand sign language, I spent the first fifteen minutes of the movie in an utter panic that I wouldn’t know what to write). However, I learned later on that The Tribe is in untranslated Ukrainian sign language, so I wasn’t alone in not understanding anything that’s communicated by the characters. To quote one trailer, “For love and hatred, you don’t need translation.”
The Tribe follows a boy who is a new student at a boarding school for the deaf, who quickly becomes involved with a group of classmates that thieve and prostitute two girls who also attend the school. After a series of petty crimes, he is put in charge of pimping the girls to a nearby trucker stop. He then becomes enamoured with one of the girls and finds himself consumed by the thought of her, to the point where it endangers himself and everyone around him.
When I left the theater after watching this film, I felt like I was going to vomit. I was shaking, a little unfocused, but still excitedly texting everyone about how I just saw one of the most stunning masterpieces that I will absolutely never sit down to watch again. This is an extremely dark piece that forces its audience to experience every heart-wrenching, grim and violent moment, this being especially so in the shocking culminating minutes. As a seasoned watcher of dark movies, I often find myself very desensitized to violence on film and thus sometimes a little bored, but it was not the case for this movie. Not only did I cry from how uncomfortable I was during one scene depicting an abortion, but I was also wincing, hugging my knees and praying for an end while I was watching the final few minutes. Although there were some moments in the narrative that I didn’t quite understand due to the language barrier, such as a subplot where the girls are getting their Italian passports, this quite simply isn’t a movie where you need to know every detail in the story.
I can’t recommend The Tribe to everyone due to its chip-away-a-chunk-of-your-soul bleakness, but it is an extremely effective, daring and captivating story, in spite of the fact that not one single word is ever uttered.