Cert 18 | ★★★☆☆
That this daring film got an international release at all is one of several impressive things about it. For not only is it sickeningly violent and utterly pessimistic, but it also plays out entirely in Russian Sign Language – without subtitles. Don’t bring a date.
The plot is mercifully straightforward, if absurd. A boy joins a lawless boarding school for deaf children on the outskirts of Kiev, where he’s swiftly inducted into the (literally) unspoken codes of the student gangs. He joins in their daily routine, which includes robbery, pimping and GBH; but then he gets the hots for a classmate, and things start to turn against him. Strikingly, not a word is uttered in 132 minutes.
Carried by strong performances from non-professional actors, The Tribe is tense and technically superb. The film’s lack of music (all we hear is ambient noise), masterfully composed single-shot scenes and fascination with the more sordid aspects of our character recall Michael Haneke.
But like Haneke’s films, The Tribe is bound to attract controversy, some of which will centre on why the filmmakers chose to set it in a deaf community. Is the point that, in their isolation from society, they have regressed into depravity like the kids in Lord of the Flies? Or is this an aesthetic stunt calculated to heighten the unnerving effect of the barbarity on display? If it’s intended as social commentary, it doesn’t work – the violence is too gratuitous and distracting. Nasty, brutish and long, the film is grimly compelling, but impossible to like.