Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Tribe: Time to Brush on Your Ukrainian Sign Language
industrial district of Kiev still known as “Stalinka” is so soulless and
depressed, its nickname is probably more fitting than ever. It is here that
Sergey will attend a state run boarding school for the deaf. He will learn the
school’s lessons quickly, despite hardly attending any classes in Myroslav
Slaboshpytkiy’s The Tribe (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday at Film Forum.
more than any previous film, Slaboshpytkiy’s Tribe was conceived as means of putting the shoe on the other foot
and forcing us to walk a while with it. Following a bold and already
celebrated/notorious strategy, Slaboshpytkiy shot Tribe entirely in Ukrainian sign language, without offering any
subtitles or narration to guide us through. Frankly, we will get lost from time
to time (that’s sort of the point), but we can follow the broad strokes fairly
well. After all, these kids are not exactly chatty.
soon learns the school is run by a very real high school mafia, led by King and
“advised” by the shop teacher. Their primary illicit business involves pimping
out classmates to drivers at the nearby truck-stop, like the apparently willing
Anya and Svetka. After some initial hazing, Sergey quickly rises through the
ranks, taking over the day-to-day operations following King’s jarring death by
misadventure. However, he breaks the unspoken rule when he falls for Anya.
overall effect of Slaboshpytkiy’s silent treatment is a mixed bag, but there
are two scenes in Tribe that are so
viscerally shocking, they will make you audibly gasp. A good deal of their
power is indeed derived from the silence. They are also masterly blocked out by
Slaboshpytkiy, causing us to wonder if his non-professional actors (who are
also deaf in real life) walked away from their scenes unscathed, while underscoring
the dangers of deafness in the wider, unaccommodating world. Of course, the
school is supposed to be a shelter, but it is anything but.
viewing The Tribe feels like watching
a cold, violent documentary unfold. The young cast is so utterly convincing and
free of mannerisms or artifice, they never seem to be performing. Still, it is
worth noting the chemistry developed by Grigoriy Fesenko and Yana Novikova, as
well as the gutsiness of their explicit but decidedly non-erotic sex scenes.
a way, The Tribe is the anti-boarding
school movie. Usually, the audience is invited to vicariously share the student
camaraderie and sense of belonging, whereas Slaboshpytkiy deliberately keeps us
on the outside looking in. Many times, we might actually wish we could join the
pupils at Hogwarts or wherever, but in the case of The Tribe, no thanks. Yet, the self-contained nature of their
environment makes it such an effective analog for the pre-revolutionary,
Russian-backed Ukrainian regime.
Tribe’s vibe is totally distinctive and completely uncompromising. Timid
patrons should be warned of its style, content, and pretty much everything
else, but it is a truly immersive cinematic experience that edgier cineastes
will appreciate. Recommended highly but selectively, The Tribe opens this Wednesday (6/17) in New York at Film Forum.
Labels: Boarding School Movies, Ukrainian Film