by Mark Wilshin
How important is language to one’s understanding of a work of art? Or culture or country? For Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe is nothing if it’s not Ukrainian. As a standalone drama, it’s patronising – denying its deaf participants any kind of potency or agency by refusing to subtitle their sign language. Instead their gestures – sometimes irate, sometimes simply expedient – are laid open to ridicule as the actors gesticulate unintelligibly. It’s barely credible in terms of its scenes of violence and sex, often tedious as long middle-range sequences are met with approximate understanding and bleak with its dog-eat-dog world of theft, prostitution and bloody revenge. And yet, as a Ukrainian film, The Tribe is a poignant parable of a voiceless people – deprived of their political call to action and reduced to a helpless and isolated proletariat scrabbling around in the dirt for an economic superstructure and a means of escape. It’s bleak, brutal and boring, but also a searing indictment of survival in the Borderland.
The Tribe is showing on Oct 15th & 17th at the 58th BFI London Film Festival