Cinema is a medium where expression and visceral action can often speak louder than words. In Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s debut film, The Tribe, the Ukrainian director takes this to a new level. The Tribe contains no verbal dialogue, no subtitles, no voiceover and no soundtrack. All the conversations take place in sign language, set to a natural backdrop. The result is brutal and compelling.
A shy young lad (Sergey – Grigory Fesenko) arrives at a Kiev boarding school for the deaf, and after undergoing an initiation falls in with a gang who are running criminal activities in and around the school. He naturally progresses from low-level theft to pimping two girls who are prostituted at the nearby truck stop. He falls in love with one of the girls, compromising his position in the gang, and when a larger scheme to traffic them to Italy becomes apparent, Sergey has to take action.
The Tribe is bleak, feral and captivating. Slaboshpytskiy uses a cast of largely untrained deaf actors, managing to write a script which conveys the drama without need for spoken language. It draws you in, and there’s nothing to soften the harsh, cruel and savage action on screen. It’s beautifully constructed, using immersive single shots to place the audience in the thick of the action, as an observer. The Tribe requires concentration to appreciate all the nuances, but it’s fascinating to watch a film where the body language is key.
The Tribe is in cinemas from Friday.