“The Tribe, directed by the Ukrainian Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, is set in a boarding school consisting solely of deaf students and staff. The film is resonant with natural sounds but virtually no words are spoken throughout.
At first, I found it difficult to get inside this film, which lacks even explanatory subtitles for the sign language to carry us along. But the silent-treatment conceit did eventually take hold and masks, if not, negates, the film’s many shortcomings. If speaking actors had been featured (the entire cast is played by deaf performers) it would have been far less interesting.
Sergey (Grygoriy Fesenko), sullen and friendless, is a new student who quickly becomes a member of a gang of boys who sneak out at night to booze and carouse and pilfer. The staff is ineffectual or in collusion -- two of the female students, for example, are being pimped by the shop teacher. When Sergey becomes attached to one of the girls, Anya (Yana Novikova), the film’s spiral accelerates ever downward.
Slaboshpytskiy doesn’t attempt to get inside the psychology of these people, or expand the meanings, political or otherwise, of their descent. There’s a stolidity to the filmmaking, with lots of overlong takes, that is meant to be ruminative but often just seems negligent. One sequence, Anya’s illegal abortion, hits home. She cries out, and it is the only time we hear her voice. Grade: C+ (Unrated.)