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THE TRIBE (review)

plemya_ver3THE TRIBE
Written and Directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Starring Hryhoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova and Oleksandr Osadchyi

Imagine being shipped off to a boarding school with no friends, no adults with whom you could trust and even a possible language barrier preventing you from expressing yourself. This is very much the case for Deaf youths placed in residential schools around the world, and the story in THE TRIBE, while shocking and unknown to most, isn’t even a remotely unique one, which further lends to its intensity and importance. Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s bleak debut feature film is at times hard to watch, yet because of the format, it is almost impossible to look away from as well.

The film opens in an unnamed, sunless Ukrainian town where a teenage boy gets off a bus, luggage in hand, and ventures to his new home, a residential school for the Deaf. Not long into his first day of school, the student body hierarchy makes itself clear and our main character Serhiy (Hryhoriy Fesenko) is welcomed into the group of boys who very much run the school, which includes a drug trade and a teenage prostitution ring. Whether by choice or out of need for friendship, THE TRIBE’s leading boy builds rocky friendships and makes his way through the violence filled school experience, causing a massive uproar when he falls for one of his classmates he also prostitutes out.


Some have called THE TRIBE a dialogue-free film, which couldn’t be farther from the truth; there is a lot of dialogue, however it just happens to be in Ukrainian Sign Language. It is also free of subtitles, which may be eyebrow raising to some, but it forces the viewer to be engaged and asks the audience to rely on what we know about body language and inferred meanings. Considering most of how we as humans communicate is through non-verbal cues, the fact that THE TRIBE wants us to focus on what is happening visually instead of what the dialogue reveals is an interesting approach to film and an inherent trait of visual art forms. We might not know exactly what is being said as two teenage girls prostitute themselves at a local truck stop, but we don’t need to; what we see says more than the dialogue ever could.

This unique approach to story telling is not the only thing setting this Cannes Festival winner apart from any other film you’ll see this year. The colour palette of THE TRIBE is a stunning, washed out and perfectly apt look at the dreary Eastern European setting. The film looks dark because the story itself is dark, hopeless but compelling the entire way through. The often long and slow tracking shots of Kubrickian nature allow for us to get immersed into the world of this residential school, and the violence that is happening on screen. The camera doesn’t shy away from showing us the bloody details either. There is a rather graphic abortion scene that many may find upsetting and unnecessary, so suggesting that everyone see this film would be remiss. If you’re sensitive to violence and human depravity, I’d avoid this one. If you can muster the nerve though, you will be floored.


THE TRIBE is an engrossing drama unlike anything I’ve seen on-screen in quite some time. The narrative style may take some getting used to, but that quickly fades as learning how to follow the story becomes equally as engrossing as the story itself. Its disparaging remarks on the residential school system may be extreme, but they are important nonetheless, giving a voice to a disenfranchised cultural group that major audiences rarely get to see. THE TRIBE is a unique storytelling experience that I hope begins to open new doors for Deaf actors all over the wold because it displays a lot of strong talent in front of, and behind the camera. The film’s tagline states, “Love and hate need no translation” and that just couldn’t be any more true here.

4 sheep

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