Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review: The Tribe

Image courtesy of Drafthouse Films.
It's safe to say that Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's "The Tribe" is a one of a kind. The Ukrainian film solely features deaf actors and the picture is completely in sign language with no subtitles. If that sounds like a daunting viewing experience, don't let the description scare you away. It's easy to follow the story in the picture, even when you don't know the exact words being signed.

The film has been hailed as a masterpiece by some and while I was certainly intrigued and impressed by it, the amazing method in which it was made occasionally overshadows everything else. In other words, that Slaboshpitsky has successfully made a film in which every character communicates by sign language and that audiences can follow the action is, at times, a little more astounding than what actually takes place onscreen.

It's a good film, but also a brutal one that features sequences that are difficult to watch. The movie follows the story of an unnamed young man (Grigoriy Fesenko) who is the new kid at a school for the deaf, where a vicious group of young hoodlums rule by force and dabble in what appears to be drug smuggling as well as what most definitely could be called prostitution.

The titular group, which consists of a nasty ringleader and his four goons, eventually welcomes our hero into their group after he proves that he can be just as fearsome as they are. Two of the school's girls, also unnamed, have sex with older men in a truck park for money, which is then handed down to The Tribe, who answer to a shop teacher. They also smuggle packages into the school that likely hold drugs or some other form of contraband.

Fesenko's character eventually falls in love with one of the prostitutes (Yana Novikova) and the film includes two sex scenes that caused a stir when the film debuted at Cannes in 2014, although the sequences appear to be a bit more graphic than they most likely were to film. More unsettling is the film's brutality, which includes scenes of youths being beaten up, another being run over by a truck, a bloody finale and an abortion sequence that left everyone in the theater in which I saw the film squirming.

"The Tribe" is a triumph in that it successfully pulls off something audiences have likely never seen before, while also occasionally including the type of miserablism you'd expect in the films of Ulrich Seidl or Bruno Dumont. It's a movie that I admire greatly and like pretty well, even if I don't agree that it's the masterpiece some folks have proclaimed it to be.

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