DVD Review - The Tribe (Plemya)

This year, the country of Ukraine failed to submit a film to the 88th Academy Awards. The reason in some ways is because of this film. Ukraine changed its rules about how it submits to the Academy Awards last year because of the controversy surrounding this movie. People wanted Ukraine to submit this film to the 88th Oscars but the country didn't, despite critical acclaim and despite winning several prizes at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival where it premiered. More regionally, it won Best First Time Director at the Philadelphia Film Festival.

Written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, the film is about a teenage boy who goes to a boarding school for deaf children. While there, he gets pulled into a gang of boys who commit criminal acts, including assault, robbery and even prostitution. The boys don't prostitute themselves. They prostitute girls who also attend the boarding school. Basically, the boys are teenage pimps.

The trick is that none of the characters speak. There are absolutely no vocal noises. All communication is done using sign language. It makes the film seem incredibly authentic, but the problem is that there are no translations, no subtitles and no voice-over. Therefore, if one isn't fully versed in Ukrainian sign language, which most Americans or English-speakers aren't, one won't know what any of the characters are saying specifically. We don't even learn the names of any of the boys or any of the characters at all.

This is frustrating because there are numerous scenes where the characters do extensive and intricate, sign language. Tons of dialogue is communicated, but that dialogue is all completely lost. So many details fly over one's head. Therefore, so much of the story is inaccessible. Supposedly, this film is a homage to silent films, but Slaboshpytskyi, along with no subtitles and no voices at all, also has zero close-ups. The entire movie is in medium or wide-shot, so even if someone knew sign language, the director keeps us at a distance.

If one wanted to read lips or read facial expressions, the director makes it impossible or next to impossible to study the film that way. There are aggressive hand-movements, but, after a while, it all becomes just aggressive hand-movements that are ultimately meaningless. The way the director stages many of the scenes makes reading the acting performances difficult as well. Mainly, it's just two teens standing in profile looking at each other in wide-shot. You barely see their faces and they just stand there.

Because of the criminal acts, there are some violent behavior and even some graphic sexuality. One scene is damn-near pornographic where we watch two of the teens have full-blown intercourse in real-time, five full minutes in one long, continuous take, where everything is seen. Yet, the director keeps us at a distance. He doesn't allow us to know what's being said, so all these violent and sexual acts are hollow or simply superficial. Therefore, there's no way to care about it or any of the characters.

Another recent, silent film is the Oscar-winner The Artist (2011). Yet, the director of that film allowed close-ups. He invited us inside. He allowed us at least to get near the characters and even dive somewhat deep into them. Slaboshpytskyi has us at arm's length.

I'd love to see the actual screenplay for this film, or even if Slaboshpytskyi thinks it matters. However, even if there were subtitles or voice-over, the writing of this movie is problematic, even if it didn't have the trick. The setting is a boarding school, but, with the exception of one or two brief scenes, this movie has no adults. It's almost like It Follows (2015), but at least in that 2015 film, the choice to have no adults was a stylistic nod to the horror genre.

Here, Slaboshpytskyi has a seeming desire for realism, but it gets to a point where I kept asking repeatedly where the adults were. It was almost like a broken record in my head. With each minute that passed that no adults were present, the realism or even credibility lessened exponentially, leading to a ridiculous, outlandish and quite frankly stupid and egregious ending.

One Star out of Five.
Not Rated but contains violence and full-frontal male nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins.


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