by Anthony Harrison
The Tribe screens tonight at 7:30 p.m. and April 19 at 4:30 p.m., as part of RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem. Both screenings take place at A/perture 2.
Despite the accolades The Artist received a few years ago, silent movies have fallen out of vogue. They’re a genre forgotten since the advent of sound. After all, when you have dialogue, why bother with intensity of expression and emotion when you can just say what’s going on?
However, I’ve never seen a movie that demands attention more than The Tribe.
The film begins with the disclaimer: “This film is in sign language. There are no translations, no subtitles, no voice-over.”
This is a “silent” movie like you’ve never seen before. The only way you’ll know precisely what’s going on is if you know Russian sign language.
However, The Tribe is so brilliant in its execution, you practically don’t need to know any language.
The film opens with the sound of busy traffic. It is sound which “normal” viewers can perceive, but the deaf, non-professional actors cannot. This strange dramatic irony drives The Tribe — we can hear what even the actors cannot.
Every scene, every shot, is broken into every possible image of teenage life — yellow buses, blinking lights, fights, graffiti, drinking, drug deals, sex — more absolutely due to the idea that the visual world is the only world the characters and actors live in real life.
The Tribe points out that non-verbal speech is truly universal. Despite the lack of spoken speech, there’s an obvious amount of politics. You can tell the protagonist is berated by his elders. You can tell he’s made fun of by his classmates. You can tell who the bullies are. You can tell who is respected and who’s not. You can certainly tell the protagonist is a wounded hero.
At the same time, while a seemingly male-filled film, you can tell that two women work in a world where they try to take their own agency in their deafened world. But they soon fall prey to slimy managers, and the women are thrust into their own terrible, nearly vocal dilemmas.
There are all the ideas of anti-social, gangster films — bonding, manipulation, betrayal, redemption — never so lovingly portrayed, in its strange own way, since the 1930s, due mainly to the starkness of the film’s presentation.
There’s so much adolescent naivete in The Tribe. And there’s so much awful realism.
When watching The Tribe, one wonders how necessary dialogue even is.
Dir. Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, 130 min., Ukraine/Netherlands, 2014