If I see one more review that suggests this film is "Too good for words" or that it "left them speechless," I might take a vow of silence.
Getting it out of the way, The Tribe is a Ukrainian film that features a deaf cast and as a result has no dialogue, no voice over and no subtitles. All we hear for its over two hour duration is environmental noises, enhancing our visual interactions with the film. The Australian rating for the film is R18+ for sex and violence is not to be taken lightly. This film is highly confrontational, not a film you will want popcorn for.
The Tribe tells the story of an institution for the deaf in a run down part of the Ukraine. (Ha the whole of Ukraine is run down) Within the school there is little adult supervision as a group of older boys run their own criminal syndicate: mugging members of the public, peddling stolen trinkets and whoring out female students at a local truck stop. When a new pupil is thrown into the mix he quickly learns the ways of The Tribe but a romantic infatuation with one of the female students may lead to disaster.
The film is shot in a few dozen elongated shots, some frozen on a tableau playing out in front of us and others in tracking shots, shaky movement adding urgency to an otherwise slow tale. The usage of long takes and comparatively few edits gives the film a realistic and engrossing feel. We are living alongside these characters, given little of the outside world as we try to gleam information as they deprive us of any spoken narrative. While the long shots are effective in certain scenes, they grow old and i found myself questioning why certain scenes were left to run as long as they did. A few minor edits would have sped up the story and allowed for a more visual communication.
The decision to keep the film entirely silent is an interesting one. Having never seen a film like this it was a challenge to myself and others viewing it. Nervous laughter could be heard in the cinema as people were unable to hide from the scenes confronting them that may normally be disguised by a musical score or subtitle explanation. We are made alien in this environment, much like a hearing impaired people might feel in the outside world, but is that enough of a reason to leave the film without any lifeline to those who don't grasp sign language? While a challenging and somewhat rewarding film, some story lines were lost in the constant movement of hands to me.
The subject matter is confronting and stark in the dilapidated surrounds of the Ukraine. There are no sympathetic characters here, from the unobservant administration to the compliant children, there is scarce human life and less humanitarian acts. The new boy Sergey is established as the hero of the story but even his arc becomes clouded as the film progresses. Yet another alienating feature of an isolating film, we come lost in this bleak and violent tale. It is impossible to say i enjoyed The Tribe. It isn't a movie to enjoy as much as it is a movie to endure and appreciate for its horror. I can appreciate The Tribe for its stylistic choices despite my desire for some sort of assistance in communicating emotion and intent for much of the film. Where The Tribe succeeds is in suffocating and alienating the audience. The Tribe is a harrowing experience, one that probably won't help Ukrainian tourism.