thetribeThe Mystery of Silence
The Tribe:
Stars: Grygoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Roza Babiy, Oleksandr Dsiadevych, Oleksandr Osadchyi, Oleksandr Panivan and Tetiana Radchenko
Director/Scriptwriter: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Cinematographer: Valentyn Vasyanovych and shot on 35 mm film
Ukrainian Film Agency/Arthouse Traffic
Language: Ukrainian Sign Language and no subtitles
Rating: R for sexual scenes and scenes of violence
Running Length: 130 minutes
Winner of Cannes Film Festival Critics Week Grand Prize and London Film Festival Sutherland Award.
Be prepared for a film of silence. “The Tribe” is set in a school for the deaf in the Ukraine, so even sign language is in another language. What sounds you hear are not language, but grunts, groans, doors opening or closing, car engines or machinery. Actors are deaf and use gestures and sign language in communicating, for most, this is their first movie role. Writer/director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy gives the audience a story of adjusting to a new environment and trying to survive. Morals are in second place. It is winter with a bleak landscape, including the dorm rooms and graffiti on the outside of the school.
Serhiy (Grygoriy Fesenko) begins the film by coming by bus to a school for the deaf where he is a new student, about age sixteen. Apparently, this is a trade school. Serhiy is shy at first, and meets the gang that really rules the place, not the teachers. His money and valuables gone, there is only joining the gang to blend in, and eventually he does that. The gang, like a mini-Mafia, regularly steals,  mugs people and has two girls for prostitution to gain funds. Serhiy becomes a pimp to one girl, Anya (Yana Novikova) and does the unthinkable---he falls for her. 
Anya’s friend, Svetka (Roza Babiy) and Anya are the tallest girls within the group. It is easy to spot them, but when the camera goes to the guys, except for one with blonde hair, they are virtually undistinguishable. All wear black shirts, black slacks and shoes, black jackets and have dark hair, and about the same average height. Against the bleakness of winter and that the gang operates at night, it is hard to tell what is going on and who is doing what to whom. There are crimes committed, but you can't tell who is stealing what and why and if they are hoarding or selling. What becomes apparent, is that these kids are growing older and someday will leave this school. What, then? Become criminals or work at a trade or both?  Sex is business for teens and health problems? This is definitely an R-rated film.
“The Tribe” brings more questions than answers, though the work of the filmmaker and cinematographer make one sit up and take notice. With first-time actors, this is a breakthrough in an acting career. What we have here is a filmmaker who went out on a limb with a basic story that could have been set in any school. New student---gang rules the school---new student is harassed and eventually joins gang----new student meets gang girl----new student falls for gang girl. This setting, though, is without spoken words and body language counts for a great deal. The audience can mostly get the storyline, except when the setting is at night, when the guys wear the same color and move in shadows. You can begin to follow one character and get the person confused with another.
There is a scene with businessmen in an office that baffled me, and another scene where people are standing in line and one of the gang wants to put something on a bulletin board but can't break through the crowd. Perhaps, this was meant to show how baffling it is to a deaf person in a hearing society. In "The Tribe," violence becomes second nature as morals are shifted to a back area of the mind. What does it take to turn a person from kind to mean? Does it take less when the person has a disability?  Or does it take more?  Cain and Abel, Joseph's brothers turning against him or David sending Uriah the Hittite to the front lines.....what makes violence? What makes a precise moment of turning...that final, infinitesimal straw.

Copyright 2015 Marie Asner