“The Tribe” will be released theatrically in Houston at the Alamo Drafthouse – Vintage Park location beginning today.
“The Tribe” is a Ukrainian drama about a deaf and sheepish teenage male who arrives at a boarding school for the hearing impaired. The film is entirely in sign language with no actual speaking or subtitles. The young man attempts to find his place in the pecking order of the school’s crooked ways all while trying to adjust to being thrown into a syndicate of the mafia.
There’s a certain beauty to “The Tribe” as you witness what it’s like to be deaf. Certain sounds squeak through like the loud shrieks of rubber soles squeaking on tile floors or the quiet clamor of noisy city life, but director Myroslav Slaboshphytskiy has effectively captured on film how unnecessary sound is to communicate and function as a human being. Not hearing anything at the school in the classroom, during recess, or in the lunchroom is extraordinary. We tend to rely on that sense so much and these are individuals who have never experienced it. “The Tribe” is able to portray just how they do that on a day to day basis.
Valentyn Vasyanovych’s cinematography is also fascinating. The film is only made up of 34 shots, so there are a lot of extended one-take sequences. But the camera always seems to be following behind the characters and tagging along as they prostitute themselves, get into fistfights, and steal whatever they can get their hands on.
The most controversial scene has to be the backdoor abortion sequence. It is so completely unpleasant and difficult to watch. It doesn’t help that it seems to last for an incredibly long period of time. Wrap that up in the actress’ muffled whimpers and strange metal contraptions being shoved in places meant for soft, pink, and fleshy happy times and you’ll find yourself cringing and covering your junk instinctively during and after the film has moved on.
Not having any subtitles or vocal language is intriguing at first, but it loses its appeal quite quickly. The film has no safety net or set of training wheels to guide its message to the viewer. Trying to decipher Ukrainian sign language while watching “The Tribe” is like trying to play a game of charades without any clues. You get bits and pieces of what’s going on, but you’re missing those little nuggets that could end up bringing everything together.
Good luck figuring out the names of the characters. Not a single name is mentioned in the film, which makes things a little confusing. The evolution of the main character isn’t massively unreasonable, but it leads to an aggravating conclusion. He becomes tainted by this ugly world he’s forced to live in, but the violent and destructive whirlwind the film becomes in the last twenty or so minutes feels unnecessary and unsatisfying. His wishes seem pretty obvious, but so many questions are left unanswered once the film ends; the main one being where do all of the adults go after the beginning of the film?
“The Tribe” is at its best when its portraying just how irrelevant sound and our ears are to the functionality of the world around us. The drama isn’t afraid to shed blood, but its stiff acting, disgusting depiction of sex, and inability to completely comprehend the film’s message is crippling to the film’s overall enjoyment.