THE TRIBE (2014)
Written and directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Deaf mute teenage boy Sergey joins a boarding school for the deaf and quickly finds himself part of the gang that the senior male students run. From robbing innocent shoppers on their way home to selling their soft toys on trains, the boys are looking to make money any way they can. They even join forces with the woodwork teacher and regularly drive the only two senior female students to a truck car park to pimp them out. When the student acting as pimp for the girls is accidentally run over, Sergey steps up to be the girls’ pimp. However, Sergey gets quite attached to one of the girls called Anna and seeks to stop her from selling her body but the tribe he finds himself in won’t allow that to happen.
Written and directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, THE TRIBE is told purely through sign lanuguage without any subtitles or voice-overs at all. When I first read on-screen at the beginning of the film that would be the case, I wondered how I would get on trying to decipher the story. I needn’t have worried as the cast, all of whom are non-professional, deaf actors, use their emotive reactions to tell the film’s story. Of course, you don’t get the complete picture unless you’re able to understand sign language but the vast majority of the story manages to be told at face value.
It’s quite intriguing following the lives of these kids, in particular Sergey, to see what they get up to in a boarding school.. or rather out of it. One thing I noticed about the movie was the lack of focus on the education the deaf students were getting. There’s only three scenes that show the students either in class or an assembly and it seems their extra-curricular activity is able to flourish with no-one so much batting an eye-lid. It says a lot when even a teacher gets involved with the prostitution of the school’s only two senior female students.
Without any voices in the movie, you begin to focus on the sounds that everyday objects make. This becomes truly horrifying when one of the girls visits a back-street abortionist after getting pregnant. Sat on a board across a bathtub with her legs apart, the woman gets to work on the teenage girl. The sounds of metal scraping and the whimpers of the girl will make you squirm in your seat. Never has background noise been more startling than in this film.
Whilst it’s a beautifully shot movie with some interesting static camera angles that prefer to wait until the characters come into shot, the story of THE TRIBE is rather simplistic. It’s obvious that those of us watching who don’t know sign language will be missing out on the dialogue, much like deaf people who miss out on conversations that aren’t signed, but going purely off the visual that is there in front of us, there’s not so much to get stuck into when push comes to shove and can leave the viewer a little cold. The slow, plodding pacing doesn’t help much either.
As an experimental movie showcasing its non-professional stars and seeing if people can understand a movie purely on emotive responses, then THE TRIBE a success but it’s not a film that you could watch over and over again.