The Tribe

This Ukranian film comes with lots of warnings about violent and sexual content, and justifiably so. Definitely not of the squeamish. But it is an extraordinary beast. Filmed in black and white with non professional actors, it is entirely in sign language, with no subtitles, no clarification, no soundtrack. What you hear is footfalls, doors banging, and all the grim behaviour of kids out of control in an institution for the deaf. I would not call it a school, though there is passing mention of education, but they are turning tricks for truck drivers, thieving mugging, and probably most infamous a pretty graphic depiction of an abortion.

One viewer said it taught her nothing and would not help the perception of the deaf, but that’s not the point of it. I found it really refreshing to be hearing real sounds. To be struggling to figure out what was going on never mind why. I kept catching myself asking, why do they just walk in on each other,why are there no locks on the bedroom doors? Because they can’t hear knocking, of course. They had no phones. Think about it. teens with no phones! They communicate with others via scribbled bits of paper. And I found their communication intriguing, as there was a lot of slapping and grunting – they seemed perpetually angry, and maybe they were but signing is a very physical form of communication – to get someone’s attention you tap them, so what we are seeing may be an exaggeration of what they are saying.

A Ukranian film inevitably leads us to think this is a reflection of the violence and chaos of that country, but I’m not sure if that is at the heart of it. The run down school and the area had echoes of Tarkovsky’s Stalker. The kids behaviour, Lord of the Flies, but even more, of Clockwork Orange, the language of which was deliberately based on Russian.

Spoiler alert: if you plan to see it, read no more

At the heart of the story is the young man who arrives and is brutalised into joining the appalling violence of the students, but when the pimp is run over he  gets the job but he falls for one of the girls, and he buys her. The sex scene starts with her turning a trick, but … his passion changes her; at the end of their exchange they are clinging together for dear life, but only for a moment, then business as usual.

Then the girls get Italian passports; they are leaving, so the boy murders for money for one last chance for her, and when that fails, he turns into more of a monster than the rest of them. The ending is chilling in its simplicity. Because that’s how things go when all sense of morality, of caring for others is lost. It ends with a door closing, of footsteps fading away…

A brilliant film, but definitely not for the faint hearted, or those in search of some comments on deaf or other communities. This is more like wildlife photography.

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