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Sleeper of the Week: ‘The Tribe’

Sleeper of the Week: 'The Tribe'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“The Tribe”
Dir: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Criticwire Average: A-

Myroslav Slaboshpytsky’s newest film “The Tribe” won three Critics’ Week awards at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and is finally getting a release in the United States. The film follows Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), a new arrival at a boarding school for deaf children, and his ever-changing life as he’s drawn into an underground world of organized crime. “The Tribe” features an all-deaf cast who communicate exclusively in un-subtitled sign language, forcing audiences to closely follow the action and pay attention to visual cues to understand what’s going on, but mileage may vary on whether or not that aspect is a feature or a bug. Some critics argue that “The Tribe” is gimmicky, cynical, and deeply exploitative. Slaboshpytsky focuses his camera on gritty, disturbing violence and young naked bodies (especially women), which are all amplified by the silence of his subjects. However, others find “The Tribe” to be a thrilling break from convention, and the shocking imagery shocks because its working within a silent film tradition. Nevertheless, it’s fantastic that films like “The Tribe” are getting distribution so audiences have the opportunity to make their own minds up about the film.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club

It’s a nervy stunt, and there’s something thrilling about trying to suss out the details of the narrative through nothing but body language and context. Thing is, that would be true of basically any story told in this style. And one reason that “The Tribe” “works” is that it presents a story so simple and familiar, so cliché even, that one doesn’t need to understand what the actors are saying to follow along. Read more.

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

The Tribe” is about a lot of things — the insularity of the deaf, the establishment and enforcement of conformist rituals, the struggle for power and self-determination — but it’s also a clarifying experience as a moviegoer. How much do we really need language to tell us what is essential? It takes a great deal of concentration to figure out what’s going on in “The Tribe,” because each scene needs an active viewer to unpack it. But anyone who’s spent time watching silent movies can attest that the extra attention encourages engagement over passivity, even though Slaboshpytskiy makes it difficult in other ways, whether by making a scene intentionally ambiguous or through revolting acts of violence. The codes of his criminal underworld are rigorously enforced, and its members’ inability to make themselves heard, inside or outside the group, has a suffocating effect. Read more.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

The director not only gives his real-life deaf actors the opportunity to emote in their own vernacular, a spectacular technical challenge that largely holds together. He also provides them with meaty roles that never condescends or pities them on the basis of their disabilities. He allows us to get lost in the chatter between his two female characters as they put on makeup before their next night out, shows the boys fighting among each other and playing pranks. They guzzle booze during a clandestine outing and strategize about their next set of criminal antics. While the specifics remain uncertain, it’s never particularly difficult to keep up with the movie’s pace, since their actions speak plainly enough — and sometimes add far more expressiveness than any verbal exchanges could provide. Read more.

Joe Bendel, Libertas Film Magazine

The overall effect of Slaboshpytskiy’s silent treatment is a mixed bag, but there are two scenes in “The 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 Slaboshpytskiy, causing us to wonder if his non-professional actors walked away from their scenes unscathed. Read more.

A.O. Scott, The New York Times

If the details of the plot are sometimes unclear, the action is always vivid and engaging. Mr. Slaboshpytskiy alternates between long, fixed takes and jostling hand-held following shots. He pays close attention to body language — reflexive gestures as well as formal signs — creating an atmosphere of tension and dread. There are moments of physical comedy and quiet feeling, but mostly there is raw, brutal exuberance. Things turn very nasty at the end, as petty criminality gives way to rape and murder and the camera starts to feel like an instrument of exploitation. Having provoked the audience’s curiosity, the film punishes us, using the bodies of its young performers, the women in particular, as tokens in a prurient, punitive spectacle. “The Tribe” deploys an elaborate, rigorously executed conceit in support of a weary, dreary hypothesis: People are awful. That might well be true, but there’s no need to shout. Read more.

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