This was something that I wanted to love, because the sort of experiment that it is posing onto viewers was always something that intrigued me. No dialogue is present throughout the course of the film’s running time, and instead all that we receive is visual communication through the form of Ukrainian sign language. The film’s lack of any use of subtitles was yet another factor that intrigued me, but the final result that I got from The Tribe was one that only left a bitter taste in the mouth. It wasn’t a film that speaks for the deaf community that I was watching, but rather a tasteless experiment that prides itself on exploiting what they experience – one that even left me feeling sick to my stomach while we’re at it. I know it isn’t at all what director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi would have wanted, and that’s a part of what I think makes the bitter effects of it much worse.
Set within a boarding school for deaf teenagers, The Tribe tells the story of the deaf-mute Sergey as he finds himself caught up within a criminal underworld, climbing another hierarchy known as The Tribe. As a means of trying to communicate with more people living within the community, he decides to join the Tribe and commit crimes together with them, even at the cost of his own morality. Perhaps this would be an interesting story to hear from a new perspective, but at the same time it also feels strangely ordinary – and soon enough the only impression that I got from watching The Tribe was that it just revelled within such ugliness without consequence.
The whole idea of a film being made around an entire community of deaf-mute people was one that fascinated me, because it almost felt like a voice for a new perspective – and yet I only found myself alienated. I felt as if I was watching the story develop from the perspective of someone who clearly has no experience talking with disabled people, because the most that has ever seemed to come by is, ironically, a film that never seems to communicate outside of its own barriers. But because the film was being told to us without the use of subtitles, I only thought that the fact its characters were deaf was only being treated as nothing more than a pure gimmick, and said concept left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed like the director was only torturing these people as the film progressed, but because they are literally muted – their pain is our own spectacle. Everything about how it was delivered seemed incredibly off-putting to me.
If I were to cover the actual story, it’s incredibly mundane and repetitive. It’s mundane because it’s any other crime story that you’ve seen along the lines of Goodfellas or Carlito’s Way just set within a community of deaf people. It’s mundane because you know how everything is going to reveal itself, because the material that we have is nothing new. And to address how repetitive it is in its nature, it seems to repeat the same process every chance it has and never expands upon its own characters, who don’t ever communicate. But the storytelling and the stylistic communication never find a way to complement one another, for the whole film seems reliant upon building its lead figures like aliens. And on that count, it seems extremely heavy-handed and rather unbelievable, I could only have recalled many occasions in which my interest had faded away.
What I did like about The Tribe though was present within the teen performances, because if this concept ever seemed to allow anything more, it was how it lived under actions creating more communications than literal words. It’s a shame that the material never seems to go beyond that, and only has even the most amount of effort present in their work muted for the sake of spectacle. Maybe it was the fact that Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi had opened the door for a new perspective to be shown on film, but ultimately wasted the opportunity with incredibly poor storytelling that would have quickly resulted in nothing new to say about the world in which it lives within. It seems to live within a world so muted, but the only way in which it addresses such is by being equally muted, thus stinting the audience from wanting to go further into said world.
I wanted to like The Tribe because of the fact that I hadn’t seen a concept like such before, but soon enough I only realized how it might have been something a tad too familiar. And on that count, it only left me feeling sick, because this isn’t the sort of movie that the deaf-mute community deserves, especially for it doesn’t seem to communicate in the way said community would try to reach out for our own aid – it just seems bent on exploiting their own misery for the sake of pleasure. I only felt even worse thinking about The Tribe from that viewpoint, because just the very thought of watching disabled people being tortured for the sake of another’s amusement rubs me in the wrong way. It was all I even pictured as I watched The Tribe, with its repeated need to torture and silence a community that’s struggling to reach out for our help.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Arthouse Traffic.
Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Screenplay by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Produced by Iya Myslytska, Valentyn Vasyanovych
Starring Grygoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Roza Babiy
Release Year: 2014
Running Time: 130 minutes