(TORONTO, ON) – I really did not take any time to read the background information supplied to me with the film sent to me by a public relations firm. What caught my eye was that The Tribe had no dialogue and was shot entirely in Ukrainian sign language.
Being raised on Walt Disney in the 1960s, with its endless Sunday 7:00 pm optimism and innocence, I was rather expecting an uplifting film chronicling the struggles of deaf mutes ending with some sort of humanistic and moral victory. Sort of like, despite their inability to speak like the majority of the population, they were really no different than you or I.
I got what I was looking for, but not exactly delivered in the way I was expecting.
The film started rather innocently with newbie Sergey finding his way from the country to a deaf mute school in a Ukrainian metropolis. Sergey gets very quickly co-opted into a gang, the tribe of less than savoury students who specialize in selling cheap stuffed animals on trains and robbing valuables from sleeping compartments.
They also like to pimp a few of the female students at truck stops, as well as mug shoppers leaving supermarkets with large alcohol purchases.
The tribe then steals the alcohol and engages in further devious behaviour, some which is best not mentioned here.
In addition to the gang of students, various corrupt administration officials at the school are involved in the pimping and human trafficking. Guardians no; exploiters of the worst variety, yes.
Numerous graphic sex scenes and just an awful amateur abortion practitioner scene.
The film concludes in a horrific bloody way by Sergey smashing the heads of his fellow gang members with a desk as they sleep. I think he has fallen in love with one of the pimped girls and decides to exact his revenge.
Is this a deep, dark and disturbing film? Yes.
If you are looking for some Walt Disney fluff you won’t find it here. What you will find is that some deaf mutes are no different than non deaf mutes. Cruel, vicious, corrupt and fuelled by passion.
Whether they communicate by mouth or signage, humans are essentially equal. Elements of Clockwork Orange. (The Tribe, 2013, Director Myroslav Slaboshpytski, Ukraine/Netherlands, 132 minutes, Ukrainian sign language with no subtitles, opened in Toronto July 17 and then in Calgary and Vancouver).
This, for us speakers, is a subtle silent movie beautifully shot and well acted. Numerous shots in the film portray a rotting Ukraine, particularly the opening scene. Has this rot affected the Ukrainian soul is perhaps a question we should be asking ourselves.