Director: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Cast: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy, Alexander Dsiadevich, Alexander Osadchiy, Ivan Tishko, Alexander Sidelnikov, Alexander Panivan, Kirill Koshik
Running Time: 2:12
Release Date: 6/17/15 (limited); 7/10/15 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 10, 2015
The language of the characters in The Tribe is Ukrainian Sign Language. There are no subtitles or any other kind of translation. Some will read this as a warning. Others will, undoubtedly, be curious. It's a small miracle預nd a testament to writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's control of form葉hat the movie tells its story quite clearly, despite the obvious barrier of a significant majority of the audience being unable to understand with specificity what the characters are communicating.
One could wax philosophical and theoretical for hours upon hours on the subject of what this experiment Says about the art, impact, and purpose of cinema (Surely, others have). Yes, film began as and remains primarily a visual medium, and there's very little difference between the act of signing in this movie and the acting of the silent era (minus the intertitles, of course). Both rely on expressive gestures and emotive faces to get their point across. We're unable to comprehend the nuance of the characters' communication to each other, but we understand enough to know what the characters are doing. That is enough, right?
It helps that Slaboshpitsky's screenplay offers a story full of routines. In one scene (the one in which we really won't understand what's being said or happening), the characters discuss something or other. We might notice a certain gesture, expression, or prop to give us some context. There's a fairly amusing scene in which a group of characters are discussing the content of the screen on a laptop. Given the darker nature of everything that's happened up until this point, the punch line is that the conversation deals with vacation photos預long with some souvenirs. The other "jokes" aren't nearly as innocent, such as one involving a character's inability to hear a semi-truck backing up immediately behind him.
In the scene following any given conversation, Slaboshpitsky gives us the payoff葉he realization of what has been said and to what has been agreed. Everything that occurs is essentially a transaction of some kind (When they're reduced to that essential a level, what does that say about our day-to-day communications?). The currency happens to be violence, flesh, and sometimes cash.
The central character is Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), the new kid at a boarding school for the deaf (We, of course, have to take the credits' word for the names of all these characters; watching the movie, one simply keeps a nickname to go with each face). At first, it appears to be like any other school. Sergey arrives at the end of a pep rally. The geography class is overtaken by the smart-ass class clown. The cafeteria has its cliques. A classmate shows Sergey to his room, which also houses three other boys his age. For some reason, they want to see his bare arms and legs.
There's a seedy underbelly to the place that we learn of relatively quickly. The woodwork teacher (Alexander Panivan) uses his van to transport a pair of girls named Anya (Yana Novikova), whom Sergey is attracted to, and Svetka (Rosa Babiy) to a nearby truck stop, where another male student gets the attention of the truckers to offer the girls' "services." There's a criminal syndicate of sorts working here, and the soldiers do pretty much anything to get cash for their leader (Alexander Osadchiy). They pummel strangers for their wallets or manhandle their classmates for the change out of their pockets when they come up short on a job.
The simplicity of the story and the point-to-point nature of the plotting aid immensely in terms of figuring out what's happening here. More importantly, Slaboshpitsky and cinematographer Valentyn Vasyanovych employ lengthy one-takes葉racking and still shots that follow characters as we figure out what they're doing and capturing the entirety of a conversation in which we're forced to discern some meaning. In those long scenes of characters signing, the movie gets a lot out of the energy from the form of communication. It's alive in ways we might not expect, such as the way an entire portion of the frame will be filled with the moving hands and arms of characters in the background.
The story is, again, simple, and on that level, the movie leaves us wanting a lot more. At times, it seems as if Slaboshpitsky is compensating for our inability to catch the specifics葉he character's motivations, the reason this crime organization exists, and every other question we might have that could be answered by understanding what the characters are saying. The compensation is that we get a lot of provocation in broad, melodramatic ways. There are a couple of prolonged sexual encounters (The first, at least, allows us to see how the characters' interaction shifts from a business deal to something sincere), an extended scene of an abortion, a rape, and plenty of physical violence. It certainly provokes, but it's hollow, because it exists within an inexact context.
Slaboshpitsky seems to be testing a hypothesis with The Tribe葉hat cinema itself can somehow translate the language of those who communicate with sign language. On that level, it's a successful experiment, but as a worthwhile story, the movie falls disappointingly short.
Copyright ｩ 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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