A Guest Review of The Tribe: Love and Hate Need No Translation
(This is a guest post from our very own Kimmie. Warning: this is a fairly dark movie that goes to some dark, dark places and this review talks about some of them.)
Some movies you watch to escape from life, to be happy and smiling at the wonderful Hollywood ending. The Tribe is not one of those movies. It is a cinematic masterpiece — as well as novel, a feat hard to manage in a medium with a hundred years of history.
Here’s how the movie is being advertised by a local arthouse theater: “The title of this unprecedented film refers to a group of students at a gritty Kiev boarding school for the deaf who extort money from locals and travelers, or turn tricks at a nearby truck stop. When new student Sergei arrives and falls in love with Anya, the tribe finds its social hierarchy challenged. The violent, sexually explicit portrait of brutality and desperation is uniquely cast with only Ukranian sign-language users.”
Untranslated. Unsubtitled. Nary a close-up.
This is not a love story — if anything, its a story that is shot through with teenage lust — for sex, yes, but also the fast life, any life, really. This is a brutal movie, its emotions hidden behind flinty eyes that glare at you out from under dark brows. Trigger Warnings? Yes, all of them.
The setting for this film is a School for the deaf and blind. Schools for the deaf and blind have always been hard to fund, and this one is no exception. The probably-school-authorized selling of tchotchkes on the train has morphed into a thieving operation, the kids smuggle drugs and the girls turn tricks at a local truckstop (there’s even a scene of a literal shakedown).
You learn, nearly from the first frame, what it is like to be in a world that doesn’t care about you — that isn’t designed for you, and isn’t terribly friendly to boot.
Without a translation for the movie, one is put in a very, very interesting place. In drama, we are used to seeing “unmotivated actions” which are later put into context. Here, we see raw emotion, and the conversation is hidden. The director is clever, and the whole of the movie contextualizes itself well — by the end you know what most of the conversations are.
The sound in the movie is environmental — there is absolutely no ambient music. And it’s been enhanced — as the people have been muted, the sounds around them grow louder in response. It’s a deliberate choice, all the more startling when the deaf people cry out — their cries untweaked by audio feedback.
A year and a half ago, we had a post where it was claimed that shock was over, dead. This is the movie to say otherwise. It must shock, it demands to shock, to thrill you — to horrify you with what humans are capable of. It is purposeful, directed violence to our complacency. The film itself can serve as an analogy to the greater Ukraine. “You left us here, to fend for ourselves.” it says.
This movie, about the unfortunate and the forgotten, about the abused and the abusers at once — cries out for action. Do something, fix this, it snarls — knowing you won’t. Shock, brutality are its only weapons to even remind you that these people exist. That there are people out there, right now, in that situation.
The cinematography is beautiful, from a deserted amusement park, to the dormrooms. A few scenes seem shot simply for symmetry’s sake, and yet their haunting beauty doesn’t break out of the grit and grime of the rest of the movie, but sits encased in it.
One of the central plot points is the Ukrainian girls becoming Disappeared. No longer simply “girls at school turning tricks” … they are sold, and being sent to Italy, where they will be without papers, without history. A grim and real-life bit, where they celebrate getting to leave (not without reason).
There are also a number of tricks the director pulls on his actors, and us, doing things like showing us how easy it is to sneak up on the deaf, particularly while they’re sleeping. A trick to shock the audience? To provoke sympathy? Both?
About a third of the audience left when this was shown in Toronto — they simply couldn’t finish the movie.
If you decide to be part of the two thirds that make it through, I’m pretty sure you’re going to want a stiff drink.