★★★ / ★★★★
The viewers undergo a unique experience in “The Tribe,” written and directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, because the story unfolds only through images and sign language. We absorb the picture not through words or explanations but the way of context and suggestion. It is both a curiosity and a frustration; it is not for everybody.
We do not know anybody’s name and so we assign them. For example, I called the new student New Boy (Grigoriy Fesenko) and the girl who captures his attention is Lip Gloss (Yana Novikova). Although there is a subplot involving these two, the story is not about a pedestrian subject like romantic feelings or courtship. No, what the work is about involves an underground community within the boarding school for the deaf. And money.
Silence is the picture’s blood and we are forced to swim in it. When we do hear a sound—hurried footsteps, fists hitting another body, children having a good time in the playground—we pay attention that much more. We wonder why sound is present. Sometimes it is important, most of the time not quite so. When we experience sound, it is almost like a reminder that what we are seeing is not fantasy. On the contrary, the dark goings-on are surely happening somewhere out there.
We observe the students communicate using sign language. Noticeable almost immediately is that there is attitude in the way they sign. For instance, tougher boys sign forcefully, almost in an angry fashion—even though they might not be. One gets the impression, however, that it is their default or major personality. Compare these tough guys to someone like New Boy. The manner in which he signs is softer, still masculine, and with less urgency, less swagger. Notice also how the way he signs changes, sometimes drastically and often subtly, throughout the course of the film.
The screenplay offers a few repetitive moments involving the girls, Lip Gloss and her best friend (Rosa Babiy). It makes the middle portion quite saggy, slow, not as compelling. Although these scenes are necessary in order for the later events to make sense, one or two memorable scenes that show what the pair do late at night might have sufficed. Furthermore, their friendship does not hold much gravity and therefore interest.
“Plemya” is daring, original, and should be seen at least once. Violence has many faces here and it is likely that one will want to look away at least once. However, these violent scenes are never gratuitous, seemingly glamorous, or are there for mere shock value. The one scene that I found to be almost unbearable involves one of the girls visiting an older lady so that the latter could perform a service. The horrifying sound of metallic objects making contact amplifies the dread.