Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Starring: Grygory Fesenko, Yana Novikova
Runtime: 130 min., Rated: R
We tend to use the verb ‘watch’ to describe the movie experience, as in “we watched a film last night.” The statement would have been apt description in the bygone era of silent film, but nowadays, we should say we both ‘watch’ and ‘hear’ a film. Without dialogues, the plots will be stilted at best, and OST is a big deal. Nonetheless, it would be suitable to use only ‘watch’ as a verb when we refer to the experience of watching the movie, “The Tribe.”
So, is it a silent film? Yes and no. We hear sounds but they don’t consist of any dialogues or music. The actors, and characters in the film, are all deaf, and they communicate via a sign language. And there are no subtitles whatsoever. The result: since we don’t pay any attention to listening, we pay more attention to watching, and we watch very closely, inadvertently or not. The long gaze of a camera for each scene is complicit with our scrutiny. We literally can’t take our eyes off of the screen.
So we try to gauge what is happening. A teenage boy enters a boarding school for deaf and he is swiftly recruited into a gang occupying the top of the food chain. He conforms to their rules: along with his rancorous classmates, he threatens younger students for money, ambushes a shopper and steals, drinks alcohols, and pimps two female students moonlighting as prostitutes to truckers. He seems reluctant at first, but has no choice but to adhere because he is new and he feels the need to belong. Then he falls for a girl working as a prostitute and starts to revolt in order to enclose her within his reach all the time. All these acts of degradation sound familiar in a movie about adrenaline-pumping teenagers.
Remember that these students are all deaf. But the movie is more interested in how they are similar to normal kids than how they are different. The tagline for the poster says, “love and hate need no translation.” As teenagers, they need outlet for their angst, and the careful viewing reveals how they express themselves differently. Every misdeed should be amplified, they must be thinking, in order to justify the pain of their defect. The frenzied fly of their hands when they communicate ushers in urgency to needs and wants. When the boy has sex with the girl he likes, we hear their grunts and gasps of pleasure, but they can’t hear each other’s. One student is killed by the moving truck because he couldn’t hear the honking. When they are eating or carrying stuffs, or if they are in the dark room, their communication is cut short.
“The Tribe” is an extremely violent movie, but we are both sympathetic and shocked by such scenes. We allow ourselves sympathy for the violators rather than for the victims, and this is a fresh turnover in a film. For the experimental nature of its form, it is daring and revealing at the same time, and also compensates for the slight inconsistency of the plotline. But it’s the type of gaze the director is enforcing on the audiences. Watch how the human nature plays out in this specific dark work of theirs, he seems to be saying. The film is intense and unforgettable for all its creative uptake on what a movie can offer. I would definitely check out the director’s second feature in the future.