State of the Art

‘The Tribe’ is a once-in-a-lifetime movie

“The Tribe” consists entirely of dialogue in sign language with no translation, yet its tough story comes across clearly.
“The Tribe” consists entirely of dialogue in sign language with no translation, yet its tough story comes across clearly. Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

How remarkable is “The Tribe?” Well, I am sitting at my desk at 7:40 on a Friday night, knowing that my long-delayed vacation begins as soon as I can get out of here, and I’m writing about it anyway.

I saw it at RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem this spring. It’s the only movie I’ve ever watched entirely in sign language, with no translation onscreen. Yet I felt I understood virtually all of it, and I came away fascinated and horrified. Its screening by the Back Alley Film Series on August 5 at Carolina Cinemas will be an event worth going out of your way to attend.

It’s the first feature by Ukrainian director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, and it’s grim. A young man goes naively to a school for the deaf, where he expects to lead a calm life. He’s pushed into a gang that deals drugs and pimps female classmates to truckers at a midnight rendezvous, with the complicity of school officials and teachers.

Eventually, he’s fully corrupted, and only the affection he has for one of the prostitutes keeps him sane. But can he protect her? Does she even want to be protected?

Once in a while I lost the thread, though I felt I soon picked it back up. I also wondered whether deaf people wouldn’t sense vibrations that told them someone was moving around right next to them, a condition that affects the plot more than once. But I soon got past my skepticism and got caught up in the story.

If you want to see a unique piece of cinema, go to “The Tribe.” You won’t come out smiling, but I predict you’ll be amazed.

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