A deaf teenager enters a specialized boarding school where, to survive, he becomes part of a wild organization - the tribe. His love for one of the concubines will unwillingly lead him to break all the unwritten rules within the Tribe's hierarchy.Written by
I had read about this film and wanted to see it, so I was happy to find it streaming on Netflix. The story takes place at a Ukrainian school for the deaf, and what I didn't realize until watching was that aside from a few mumbles, gasps, and background chatter, the characters speak only in Ukrainian sign language, without the use of subtitles, translations, or narration. There's not even any music, for crying out loud (although we do hear all the other sounds of the world though, doors closing and footsteps and things, the absence of which I think would have felt pretty strange).
But honestly, none of that bothered me. Not having to read subtitles let me enjoy the film in a different way. Even if you understand sign language, I didn't feel like the filmmakers went out of their way to focus on the signing. Often it took place in the distance, or the character's back would be turned or at a funny angel. There are a few scenes where it's hard to tell what they're talking about, but overall I never felt like I was missing much. The relative silence added to the experience, and I even found myself at time subconsciously thinking that I was unable to hear, kinda like when I watched The Invention of Lying on an airplane and thought that I too, like the characters in that film, was unable to tell a lie. But that was the only good thing about that movie, if you can even call it a good thing.
So, back to The Tribe. Unless you understand Ukrainian sign language, the characters' exact word choice is anyone's best guess, but the story is simple enough and told in such a way that it's easy enough to follow based on context, body language, and the things we see happening. I think it is anyway, unless I got the story totally wrong! But hey, it made enough sense to me! I may have been confused at times, but always felt like I was meant to be, like that was part of the story and the filmmakers' intention.
But the acting didn't quite cut it. I don't think any of these were professional actors, since their main requirement would have been fluency in sign language, and it really showed, despite there being no spoken dialog. They walk strangely and unnaturally, as if uncomfortable on camera, and too often stare off awkwardly in order to avoid looking at the camera. In one scene, three of the main character push their way through a crowd, but the exrtas in the scene all but ignore the annoyance, staring awkwardly straight ahead or at the ground. And one fight scene toward the start of the film almost ruined it for me. It was too clearly choreographed and looked as though the characters were dancing. Fortunately, the best bit of acting comes from our lead character, who was well-cast with his perpetually blank expression.
There are a few pretty explicit sex scenes, which didn't bother me except for the fact that, in the filmmakers' attempt to show as much as possible, it becomes pretty obvious that the sex is simulated, and the scenes are unconvincing and ineffective.
I'm typically a fan of European film with long takes, such as the ones in this film, but too often here we see doors being left open for the cameraman to enter when they would normally be closed in real life. Sometimes it's excusable, but at one point a character who is being chased on foot stops to hold the door open for the cameraman behind him. Another time, an apartment door is left open to the world while illegal activity is conducted just inside, and multiple doors throughout the film are left open to the cold outside.
This movie wasn't terrible, but the flaws, which were sometimes laughable, were too numerous to ignore. But there were a few things I loved about this film. I very much enjoyed the camera-work in general: long takes following the characters through various environments, down hills and through trees, jumping between characters. One particular scene shows separate actions occurring simultaneously in two different rooms, both visible in the same shot from the outside through adjacent windows. It was well-done and clever, but never felt gimmicky. I love stuff like that.
And I'm glad that, despite the terrible fight scene I was forced to endure, I still gave this movie a chance and stuck around to the end, because the last scene is very very good. It's one of the best endings I can remember seeing in a while. It's very effective, well-acted, well-shot, and all around well done from a technical standpoint.
Overall, I didn't love The Tribe, but I recommend it for for the ending, if for no other reason.
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