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New Directors/New Films Festival: 'The Tribe'

by Photo of April Baptiste-Brown

Communication is not lost in Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s silent film ‘The Tribe’

New Directors/New Films Festival: 'The Tribe'

In this article…

Going into a new school is hard. But going into a deaf boarding school as the new kid? It offers the same amount of difficulties as anywhere else in director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s gripping film The Tribe.

With an all deaf and mute cast communicating entirely through sign language--and without subtitles--The Tribe follows Sergey as he adapts to being the new student at a boarding school for the deaf. Sergey is quickly pulled into the alpha male group at school, who are responsible for selling drugs and merchandise as well prostituting their female classmates. But when Sergey starts to fall for one of the girls that he is supposed to pimp, he finds himself tangled in a web of love, loyalty and violence that is quite hard to be undone.

The Tribe was an absolutely riveting film from start to finish. Knowledge of sign language (or language in general) is irrelevant when watching this film. All you need to know to understand are emotions, and The Tribe does not fall short for lack of drama; within 20 minutes of the film’s start, main character Sergey is thrust into an initiation fight to prove his worth. The film starts on a high and rarely slows down.

There are captivating moments all throughout The Tribe that make the viewer completely forget that they are watching a film without traditional dialogue. A scene where two girlfriends are arguing in the back of a van is reminiscent of friends bantering before going out to a party. Another scene where the alpha male group realized that they were ripped off by their younger counterparts, offered a comedic yet realistic look at how older kids often handle discipline when faced with a younger group’s disobedience.

But The Tribe also zoomed in on issues that, though viewed through the eyes of the deaf community, are quite prevalent in today's society. Violence, love, betrayal, friendship, and death are all things that everyone goes through, and those topics are tackled head on as the film runs it course. They seem to be highlighted more since the main setting of the film was boarding school, and the characters are forced to interact on a daily basis without any signs of relief from the constant problems that plague them.

Furthermore, it is the movie’s lack of sound that makes you channel into the events that unfold. The film isn’t burdened by a soundtrack or score because honestly, what’s the point? The actors would not hear it and it would frankly seem disingenuous as an addition to the film. The only sounds you hear are that of life happening: a car driving away, a group of kids running, a door opening, etc. But you must always keep in mind that though we can hear these things, no one in the film can.

Equipped with a captivating plot and absolutely no lack of imagery, The Tribe shows that communication is not lost even when sound is. Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy combined amazing visuals with a character-driven story so that absolutely nothing is lost in translation. The Tribe displays that fitting in, no matter what the environment, is never as easy as it seems.

This film was presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMa during the 44th Annual New Directors/New Films Festival.

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