Saturday, September 10, 2016

Movie Review - The Tribe

The Tribe (Plemya) (2015)
Starring Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, and Rosa Babiy
Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

"This film is in sign language.  There are no translations, no subtitles, no voice-over."

And that is how The Tribe begins - a unique film told completely in Ukranian sign language.  While this conceit certainly isn't played as a "gimmick," I was a bit worried that the concept would wear thin to those of us who are hearing, but it surprisingly doesn't across its rather lengthy 130-minute runtime.  That isn't to say that the film isn't without its faults, but it's not due to the language barrier, but rather story issues that oftentimes seem too absurd to believe.

High schooler Sergei (Grigoriy Fesenko) has just started at a Ukranian school for the deaf.  Immediately upon arrival, however, he discovers that within the school, a large group of students (and several teachers) have created a criminal gang that earns much of its money from sending out two willing female deaf students Anya and Svetka (Yana Novikova and Rosa Babiy) to prostitute themselves on a nearly nightly basis.  Sergei's timid nature soon shifts as he discovers that in order to survive at the school, he needs to toughen up and take part in the gang's activities, but when he begins to feel a romantic connection to Anya, things get complicated.

As I mentioned, the sign language isn't a barrier here.  The actors - all deaf in "real life" -  do a decent job of conveying what their characters are feeling, although there were admittedly many moments where their lack of acting experience led to overuse of facial reactions to get across things.  For this I blame the director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi perhaps more than the actors as I imagine he felt the need to make sure the audience understood the characters' intentions and emotions and almost coached the actors to overact.  The problem with the film is in the lack of believability within the story itself.  How in the world do the teachers and the administration of the school not see what is going on within their walls?  How is it possible that these students are able to leave every night to rob innocent people on the street or hook for extra cash?  While I guess it's possible a school like this could exist, I couldn't wrap my head around it and it harmed the film pretty much from the get go for me.

Told all in long takes that oftentimes make the horrors facing these kids even more difficult to endure (one scene involving Anya heading to a rundown apartment for a medical treatment is particularly stomach-turning), The Tribe is visually appealing and undoubtedly will be something the likes of which you'll never have seen before.  Because of its uniqueness, however, I wish the story could've lived up to its conceit.  As it stands, The Tribe just comes off as okay as opposed to something truly special.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+


  1. I was so excited about this film when it was on the festival circuit, thrilled when Drafthouse Films announced they were releasing it, and then frustrated as I waited for maybe a year after that for it to actually be released. But, in the end I enjoyed it at least for the sign language aspect. I didn't watched it at home rather than in theatre, but it was very interesting when checking theatres that it was running in. Would definitely lend itself to watching with an audience (kind of how silent films do). That jarring end scene, when in a theatre with strangers, would be worth it. I didn't find the facial expressions over exaggerated though--common in American Sign Language at least--the facial expressions (head position, eyebrows, mouth shape, etc.) are part of the sign language typically. That plus "dramatic" teenagers--

    1. I was waiting for your comment. And you've raised a point that I never really thought of before in that the over-exaggerated expressions are inherently part of the language.

      I was shocked at the end...and the fact that it comes on the heels of that abortion scene which was one of the most uncomfortable things I've seen in a long time...yikes!