When the title card appeared on screen announcing that The Tribe tells its tale in sign language, with no dialogue and no subtitles, a young woman in the audience made a comical remark clearly intended to create a fake sense of shock. At the 9:45 PM screening the crowd was clearly getting a bit loopy after a full day of films. It was bound to happen and The Tribe seemed like the perfect place for such antics to manifest. However, once the film finally began, the unintentional laughter stopped. It was replaced by stunned silence, the tension in the air only occasionally broken by an audible gasp of shock.
It quickly became clear that The Tribe would be an experience; a startling jolt of adrenaline to the once exhausted souls in the theatre. The lack of dialogue was not merely a gimmick, but rather an integral part of the overall experience. Set entirely in the world of the deaf, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s debut film focuses on a gang of students who engage in various criminal activities. Our guide into this shocking and seedy world is Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), a new student arriving at a boarding school for the deaf and mute.
Discovering the social hierarchy that exists within the school, Sergey is initiated into the top clique, the tribe. Unlike other teenagers whose free time consists of watching television and surfing the web, this rowdy bunch spend their nights organizing a prostitution ring at a nearby truck stop, robbing locals, and selling stolen merchandise on the train. Slowly moving up the ranks of the tribe, Sergey is promoted to the roll of head pimp and ends up falling for one of the young escorts. Breaking the cardinal rule of mixing business with pleasure, Sergey soon learns that the tribe is unforgiving to those who step out of line.
Bold and unsettling, The Tribe is not an easy film to forget. By eliminating the dialogue, Slaboshpitsky not only places the audience within the characters’ shoes, but also forces them to play closer attention to what is occurring on screen. Tracking shots through the truck rest stops carry an extra eerie feel. The possibility of danger comes not only with every truck driver who opens the door to buy an escort, but also with the vehicle themselves as the students cannot hear the warning sounds of trucks in movement.
Slaboshpitsky’s film is both intriguing and haunting in its execution. Early on in the film he plants his camera firmly inside the school silently observing the ceremony ushering in the new school year taking place just outside the door frame. It is a serene shot that goes on for five minutes. Slaboshpitsky utilizes a similar static shot later in the film, but this time it is longer and more uncomfortable. The focus is no longer on happy students, but on a young teenage escort having an abortion. While not graphic, it is a scene so intense and disturbing primarily because the camera does not cut away for a second.
The audience feels the sickening pain that the young woman must be feeling at the hands of the illegal abortionist. It is in this scene that Slaboshpitsky’s point becomes clear. Regardless of whether or not you are hearing impaired, evil does not discriminate. Crime and corruption can consume those with disabilities as easily as those who do not. This is especially true in the jaw-dropping finale that, similar to the abortion scene, will be burned into the audiences’ minds for years to come.
The Tribe is not necessarily a film that one can easily describe as enjoyable. The characters are unlikable and their motives are downright despicable. It is a film whose appreciation comes more from its construction rather than its actual content. The Tribe is a cold and bleak film that lingers with you for a long while. Though wildly original and daring, audiences will need a hug after enduring the film’s most startling moments.