Neil Hepburn, Marketing Manager at The Cameo, gives us an insight into today’s Discover Tuesdays film.
Director: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky.
Starring: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy. Ukraine/Netherlands 2014. 132 mins.
The unique selling point of The Tribe is that it is performed entirely in Ukrainian Sign Language, none of which is subtitled. Not the most commercial strategy, even before you add a gruelling narrative that takes us to some very dark places. Nonetheless, the film took the top prize in the Critics Week section at Cannes 2014, picked up a slew of awards at festivals internationally, and secured US distribution from Drafthouse Films.
The success of this remarkable movie perhaps has more to do with the singular experience a dialogue-free feature offers to its audience, the majority of whom don’t have the skills to follow a very specific form of signing. We are initiated into a hidden world in tandem with a teenager (Grigoriy Fesenko) as he arrives at a d/Deaf school. A lengthy tracking shot (the first of many) introduces an environment that is at first fascinatingly alien but will soon appear claustrophobically normal, as we learn the rules of a savage pecking order and the shocking consequences of rebellion.
Director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s debut feature is full of intense conversations and aggressive arguments, but in the absence of a single audible word, The Tribe offers a different kind of sensory experience. The focus falls squarely on the movements and gestures of the incredible cast of largely non-professional d/Deaf actors. Long shots allow us to view body language in full flow. Yet the signing is really just an artifice that quickly feels irrelevant, even if it does eliminate some of the most commonly used techniques in the medium of narrative film.
Cinemagoers are accustomed to storytelling that incorporates expositional dialogue, subtitles and music to direct our emotions. In banishing these elements The Tribe delivers something that feels remarkably close to the holy grail of sustained, purely visual storytelling. With the language-processing part of our brain turned off and our senses heightened, violence – or the prospect of violence – seems disturbingly real. We find ourselves judging whether the level of threat implied by an incremental series of hand movements is going to spill over into physical confrontation.
Slaboshpitsky has mentioned in interviews that his next project will draw on his experiences as a journalist reporting on the Chernobyl disaster, playfully describing it as Terrence Malick’s Badlands meets Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Judging by his astonishing debut feature, I doubt he’ll have trouble getting it backed. But here’s hoping we also see more work from the young d/Deaf actors whose incredible presence and committed performances make The Tribe such an impressive achievement.
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