Confession time – I kind of hate people. Specifically I hate people who find a need to proclaim – in earshot of everyone else in a crowded lobby – that they are in fact a cinephile (like this woman at Alamo today). Seeing an arthouse film does not instantly rank you in the highest echelons of film fandom. Seeing dozens of arthouse films makes you a cinephile – and even then – only if you talk incessantly about them in a setting other than a movie theater.
So shut the fuck up already. I mean thank god the Alamo bro behind the counter rolled his eyes after she left, and we shared a mutual hatred for that pretentious patron. No words had to be spoken, and yet we were entirely on the same page. My daily trip to the cinema was almost spared…
…but you can probably guess where the bimbo ‘cinephile’ went. Yep – same theater as me.
And thus began my Monday trip to see the latest Drafthouse Film The Tribe. Attention ladies and gentleman, the forecast for this evening calls for a high concentration of smugness from a local female theatergoer followed by scattered cynicism by a disgruntled airship crewman.
Two hours, ten minutes, and not a word spoken – that’s The Tribe. It’s a film entirely in sign language with no voiceovers, no subtitles, and most importantly no accompanying soundtrack. This is a film ONLY for the hardest of the hardcore moviegoers out there. It’s bold, meticulously shot, and the biggest gimmicky arthouse film you’ll probably ever see. That being said – it’s also probably the most daring thing you will ever see (no hearing required).
So when I say it’s all in sign language, I mean it’s in a Ukranian variation relatively distinct from ASL. Either way, the only two notches I’ve got on this here language belt are German and English, so really I don’t have a fucking clue what went on in this movie.
The gimmick is obviously to force the viewer to pay attention and piece together the raw visuals themselves, but I honestly can’t provide you with names or locations without cheating and going to IMDB. The story is set somewhere in Shantytown, Ukraine where we follow the ‘new kid’ to a school of sorts reserved for a student body entirely comprised of the hearing impaired.
He’s quickly bullied by the other kids, though – after holding his own in a fight – he is ‘rewarded’ by being invited to join what I can only suspect is ‘The Tribe’. Essentially it’s a group of teens that operate a crime syndicate within the school and engage in nefarious activities like pimping, assault, robbery, etc.
So Deaf Jeff (our main character) participates in all the A Clockwork Orange style mayhem and eventually falls in love with one of the girls he’s helping to pimp out. He knocks her up; she gets an abortion, and then there’s something about her going to Italy. Deaf Jeff gets pissed off and then just fucking murders the rest of The Tribe in the most gruesome way imaginable.
There, I ruined the movie for you. It’ll give me something to talk about (and save you from the graphic nightmares that accompany seeing this film).
First things first though – the Tribe is not necessarily bad, but I guarantee that 99% of people won’t know what’s going on, and they likely will hate the film regardless. It’s a powerful film since the sign language gimmick probably has never been done before. Moreso because director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky proves his hypothesis that emotions like ‘love’ and ‘hate’ need no translations. Indeed, the film is fairly easy to follow if we track our antihero Deaf Jeff and his West Side Story character arc.
It’s that classic tale of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy somehow survives drowning/having a bottle smashed over his head, boy seeks revenge by smashing his former deaf brethren’s heads in with their night stands while they sleep (presumably because they can’t hear him).
Additionally The Tribe has some truly masterful shots that are as elegant as they are meticulously crafted. I’d say this film has no shortage of tracking shots, but then again there are only about 30 actual sequences in the two-hour runtime (so yeah – they’re pretty long). If you love the Wes Anderson symmetry thing, it’s a lot like that only with very fluid angle alterations in long unbroken cuts.
So prepare yourself dear reader for some painfully drawn out and utterly inconsequential scenes. Oh, you didn’t find the money in the first drawer Deaf Jeff? Better check the next one, and the next one, and the next one in painfully agonizing detail.
And I thought watching Kris Kelvin stare at a leaf for five minutes in Solaris was tough. Sheesh! Furthermore, you should also just mentally prepare yourself for a host of things that can never be un-seen. Oh Airman Xley, you’re just exaggerating. We’ve seen so many movies that, well, there’s nothing we can’t handle! No, my beloved reader, this is one case where you should just take my honest word. I rank this right up there with The Hills Have Eyes 2 and the mutant birthing scene.
WARNING: this film is incredibly graphic. There are the usual suspects of rape, bashing people’s heads in, gratuitous amounts sex– oh and that scene where Silent Susie gets a DIY abortion. Yeah – good luck trying to forget that joyful scene.
I get it, I really do. They’re going for the whole ‘let words be left unspoken’ style of shock and awe. There’s some underlying theme about the nature of love and evil and how it can be found almost anywhere. The audience purposely is left without guidance because the director wants us actually to think for once and piece together an entirely foreign, albeit familiar puzzle.
They could be speaking Portuguese, and the effect would still be the same as speaking entirely in sign language. Body language and human nature are universal, so – provided you can make it through the arduously drawn out tracking shots – you can quickly get a general idea of what’s going on (at least in a broad sense).
It’s a powerful gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless. Other than the bleakness of the sets and the visceral nature of the central conflict, I cannot recommend this film except to say you will likely never see anything similar to it ever again.
What’s the most important takeaway from this film? Only that the before-mentioned sickening ‘cinephile’ left halfway through the movie! Go back to your cave you theater troll!
The Bottom Line:
See No Evil, Hear No Evil – oh wait, not quite.
It should be See Some Evil, Hear No Evil – yep, that’s The Tribe. It’s powerful, visceral, and frankly kind of boring. So have at it – you arthouse junkies you. I’ll let you decide for yourself if this silent film of sorts is worth the deafening film circuit acclaim it’s been getting.