Brutal Ukrainian coming-of-ager told entirely in sign language
This formally daring, unique first feature from Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy plays out completely in sign language, with no subtitles. Slaboshpytskiy has stated that, 'It’s been my dream to pay homage to the silent movie,' and the result is a relentlessly bleak and brutal coming-of-age drama that makes for mesmerising viewing.
We meet deaf teenager Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) as he makes his way to a specialist boarding school. He asks for directions and all seems pleasant enough but on entering the premises a dark cloud descends upon him, as he gets involved with the school's bad element, who turn out to be an organised gang that pimp out girls to the local truckers. When Sergey falls in love with one of the teen prostitutes, Anna (Yana Novikova), the consequences are dire.
Though The Tribe is a coming-of-ager first and foremost it also has the feel of a gangster movie blended with a prison drama. The youths wander round in circles along winding corridors, their bare rooms like cells on either side; the severe setting signifying those murky, awkward, difficult to negotiate teenage years when a person is introduced to cruel realities.
At times eye-wateringly grim things happen on screen. Slaboshpytskiy refuses to move his camera away from the deeply disturbing material, forcing the viewer to watch a whole host of awful events. His unflinching, repetitive style, precise compositions and the unexpected bursts of violence are unnerving and sure to haunt your thoughts.
Also impressive is the fact that none of the teenagers involved are trained actors, but all of them turn in powerful performances. Special mention goes to Fesenko, who undergoes an extraordinary transformation. The Tribe is a tough, confrontational watch but, while its juvenile delinquents do terrible things, Slaboshpytskiy manages to generate considerable sympathy for their situation.
Selected release from Fri 15 May.