Told without subtitles and entirely in Ukrainian sign language, The Tribe is a challenging and surprising tour de force. Brutal in its silence, its explicit violent and sexual content feel all the more powerful in the eerie atmosphere. What isn’t so explicit is the film’s location. A boy arrives at some sort of institution for the deaf. Is it a school? A boarding school? A young person’s prison?
The ambiguity over the setting increases the feeling of uncertainty in the air. Sometimes The Tribe can feel impenetrable but the film relies heavily on interpreting the sign language. It requires a leap from the audience to accept that they may only understand the broad power structures that exist in this place, rather than unpicking the minutiae.
The bullying and gang mentality is depicted viciously with lengthy shots which make the experience even more memorising in its silent brutality. The film’s closing event is particularly shocking, a breathtaking closing note of violence that is pure cinema. It’s a strangely immersive, if extraordinary insight into life as a deaf person, furious in its silence and incredibly isolating. The Tribe requires a lot from its audience without giving much back in terms of solid answers. What all the violence adds up to is not entirely clear, yet it hangs with you long after the film closes.
Review by David Rank
Certificate 18 (UK). Running time 130 mins.