Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Cast: Grigoriy Fesenko
Watch The Tribe online in the UK: Amazon Prime / BFI Player / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Google Play
55 per cent of communication is non-verbal. Body language, eye contact, posture. All of it adds up to form a message with meaning. But still, the prospect of a two-hour film entirely in sign language – with no subtitles – is daunting.
Of course, for the kids at a Kiev boarding school for the deaf, non-verbal communication is the norm: they don’t need noise to communicate. The result is a bizarre form of silent cinema, which unfolds in a string of hand movements, accompanied by the occasional slap, stroke or pant.
Into the school steps Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), a newcomer to the establishment. Soon, though, he finds himself sucked into a regime of institutionalised crime, a group of boys who steal from unsuspecting train passengers by day – and pimp out their female co-pupils to truck drivers at night. The nasty events are conducted in that same, studied quiet, with no music to disrupt the documentary-like realism.
The unheard elephant in the room, inevitably, is comprehension: with no on-screen text to translate, is it possible to understand what’s going on?
The answer is both yes and no. Specific conversations and details occasionally flummox, but the overall gist of the plot is fascinatingly easy to follow. When Sergey falls in love with Anna, one of the two prostituted girls, for example, we know it cannot end well. But the sound of silence has an alienating effect too, putting us firmly outside of the closed criminal clique.
It is impossible not to be affected, though, by what you see. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy films events in long takes, emphasising the chemistry between the members of this harsh tribe. It is telling that the only times we do hear noises are during scenes of extreme pain or the unflinchingly unglamorous sex scenes – moments of universal experience that need no translation.
One sequence halfway through sees someone receive an impromptu abortion, a 10-minute single shot that climaxes in strained cries of agony. In a universe where noise is not required, the unfamiliar yelps of a child’s unused vocal chords take on a new, heart-shattering quality that emphasises the shock of their adult actions. By the time the violent final act arrives, each scrape of furniture carries a booming weight.
55 per cent of communication is non-verbal, they say. You may only be able to process half of The Tribe, but you feel 100 per cent of its impact.
The Tribe is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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