World Cinema can mean different things to different people. To someone living in America, I guess even our British cinematic output could qualify as World Cinema. In fact, those two words together, if you think about it, mean nothing other than, well, cinema. Because it’s all from somewhere in the world, right? For me, I am sticking with the Brit-centric definition. World Cinema allows me to explore any films made somewhere that doesn’t have English as their first language. I have never been one to shy away from subtitles.
Having said that, The Tribe has no subtitles. Nor does it have any dubbing or voiceover narration. The Tribe is a film in which all of the main players talk to one another in sign language. This takes a bit of getting used to, initially, but soon becomes an intriguing aspect of the film, and a satisfying exercise showing mastery of the visual medium.
Grigoriy Fesenko is a young man who arrives at a boarding school for the deaf, only to find that he can soon do well for himself by helping those who run the school much like a well-established crime operation. He can handle himself in a fight, he learns quickly, and he’s available to act as a pimp to two girls, one of whom (Yana Novikova) he takes a bit of a liking to. Yes, it’s all standard crime drama stuff, but the presentation really lets this stand out from the pack.
Writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, making his feature debut (astonishing as that may seem), not only uses the deafness of the main characters to intensify all of the connections and decisions, but also creates some truly unique moments of cinema. Characters are put in danger, for example, in ways that wouldn’t apply if only they could hear the environment around them. With both pain and pleasure taking place in relative silence, every scene has an unworldiness to it, a feeling that the bubble created around the central characters is so complete that they could even be inhabiting a whole other planet.
The acting seems strong from everyone, with Fesenko giving a particularly, and necessarily, strong performance. Considering the path that his character strides along, he shouldn’t be someone that viewers want to keep rooting for. But we do, somehow. I’m not going to pretend that I kept track of who played every other character, as my inability to understand sign language really stopped me from learning the character names, but Novikova, Rosa Babiy, and Alexander Osadchiy essentially stand together as the core of the movie.
Not a happy and pleasant watch, by any means, this mixed some real horror, ugliness, nastiness, and some gorgeous camerawork into something quite unlike anything else I can think of. Which made it an ultimtely rewarding experience, and one I recommend to adventurous film fans.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: MYROSLAV SLABOSHPYTSKYI
STARS: GRIGORIY FESENKO, YANA NOVIKOVA, ROSA BABIY, ALEXANDER OSADCHIY
RUNTIME: 126 MINS APPROX