Some things are better left unsaid.
Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) is a young deaf kid who is starting a new point in his life by attending a boarding school for the deaf. And as if the case with coming into a new school, more often than not, you’re welcomed in with fists and fights, than actual open arms. This is exactly what happens to Sergey who, from the very beginning, shows his toughness and loyalty to the certain bad kids at the school, leading him to join their group and all the other bad that they do. Meaning, Sergey gets involved with a whole lot of drinking, drugs, sex, prostitution, crime, and above all else, murder. But through all of this dark stuff, he finds some solace in Anya (Yana Novikova), a fellow student who is making her own living as a very young prostitute. Though she has plans to leave the country for somewhere better, Sergey tries to disrupt these plans as he not only falls head over heels for her, but is willing to do anything to make sure that she stays in the Ukraine with him. Even if that means risking his own life, as a result.
Yes, the Tribe is indeed a movie where not a single person speaks. Instead, every character communicates solely through sign-language. And if that wasn’t hard enough for audiences to get teased by, well, get ready, because there’s also no subtitles to accompany this form of dialogue, either. So basically, the whole film is told through the ways characters act, flagellate their arms and hands, and that’s about it. Everything else is basically left up to us, the audience, which makes this a movie you must, I repeat, must pay absolute and undivided attention.
Otherwise, well, you’ll have no clue what’s going on.
Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, because a good part of the Tribe is easy to decipher, if you’re just solely judging it by how plots of this nature tend to go and play out. Of course, once the new kid comes to school, he’s going to fall in with the crowd, make enemies, make friends, cause all sorts of hi-jinx and, oh yeah, fall in love with a barely legal prostitute. Yeah, so you get the idea – the Tribe isn’t so much of a predictable film, as much as it seems like a “type of film”, where we know how the story goes and the only reason why any of it is compelling in the first place is because it’s all told through sign-language.
And yes, this would make the movie, in and of itself, a “gimmick”, but not really. While the idea of these characters not speaking to one another, and writer/director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s (try saying that name five times fast, or at all) insistence on not actually letting us know what’s being said, or what’s happening, and just allowing for the images to tell themselves, may ultimately seem like a trick, but in the end, it actually does work. What starts as a very ordinary, coming-of-age tale with some darker themes, ends up being a far more deep, depressing and screwed-up tale about growing up with the wrong influences around you and how, if you’re not careful, it could all succumb you and leave you high, dry and nearly dead.
Then again, maybe that’s not at all what the movie’s saying.
Because the Tribe is so messed-up and uneasy, it sometimes become almost too much. And I don’t mean “too much” in the sense that, “oh, it’s really hard for a simpleton like me to stomach”, but more that the plot can sometimes get so ugly, that it’s a tad unbelievable. A Ukrainian deaf-mob? Okay, maybe I’m willing to buy that for a dollar. But then the movie goes even further and further to show that there’s more powers at be, that not only pull the strings, but are the exploiters to begin with. While I’m not doubting the fact that this might happen in certain parts of the world (and it probably does in Ukraine), the way the movie uses it can get a tad cartoonish. Like, for instance, we’re told from the start that the school has some very strict employees and teachers, and if so, then how come there’s literally an underground chock full of these students who go around, drinking, smoking, sexing and committing all sorts of crimes, that anybody in their right mind would hear about, let alone catch wind of eventually.
They probably spoke about why this never happened, but then again, how would I know? Nobody’s speaking!
But I digress.
Regardless of what bad things I have to sat about the Tribe, there’s no denying that for nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s hard to turn away from. Sure, it takes its time and, more often than not, manipulatively leaves you in the dark, but this world that Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy himself is peeking into, remains an interesting one. Even when it’s clear that a world like this is too hard to believe in, there’s still this driving force behind the movie and the story that makes it emotionally and physically gripping. It’s hard to imagine myself ever seeing the Tribe again, but really, I’m fine with that. The time that I took to give it a watch, and put away all of the distracting electronic devices, was worth it. So what if it’s a trip I won’t take again?
People probably say that about the Ukraine all of the time. But at least they go in the first place, see what it’s all about, give it a try, and head on home, never to look back again. That’s my reaction to the Tribe and it’s about as divisive of an opinion I’ve had on a movie for awhile.
Which means, yes, I liked it. A lot.
Consensus: Not for everyone, the Tribe will definitely test some people’s patience, but for those who are willing to take the time and dedication to it, will find themselves ultimately rewarded, if not as excited to take another gander at it.
8.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire