The cover of this one (which you can see up there) includes a quote that suggests this one is ‘an experience everyone should have’. Having just watched THE TRIBE, a film in Ukranian sign language with no subtitles or voice over, with a grim premise and scenes of casual violence that will undoubtedly be upsetting to many, even I have to say that this particular comment is a bit misjudged. Don’t get me wrong - THE TRIBE is very good, highly original, and, by the time you get to the end of its 132 minutes, really quite devastating. But for everyone it most certainly is not.
We follow the adventures of new arrival Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) at a boarding school for deaf teenagers. After the usual initiation procedures of being repeatedly beaten up and having his money taken off him, Sergey is introduced to the main extra-curricular activities of the student body, which include prostitution. He makes the mistake of falling in love with one of the girls and so begins a spiral of jealousy and violence that can only end in the bleakest kind of horror.
THE TRIBE is a remarkable achievement. There is no dialogue and no music. The soundtrack consists entirely of everyday sounds (traffic noise, car horns, etc) as well as sex and crushing violence. Despite the film’s length, there are apparently only just over thirty separate shots, with much use made of what I presume was Steadicam to follow characters up and down stairs and in and out of corridors. It’s easy to follow the plot as there isn’t really that much of it, but one suspects there’s a lot more going on in the dialogue than most of us will ever be able to appreciate.
Apparently the director didn’t know sign language and needed a translator on the set (there’s a behind the scenes featurette on the extras, as well as a couple of deleted scenes). I can believe this, because despite its fine performances and the affecting subject matter, it’s hard to feel too involved with what is going on. The viewer feels impartial to events, watching them taking place inside a goldfish bowl, and an unrelentingly depressing one at that.
So be warned - THE TRIBE is very good. But it is also bleak, depressing, and may well leave you in need of a good cheering up afterwards. It’s had a limited cinema run in the UK and is now out from Metrodome on DVD. Approach with caution.
THE TRIBE is out on Region 2 DVD from Metrodome from 14th September 2015