I heard about this Ukrainian film that takes place in an all Deaf boarding school for teens and thought, “How exciting!” I also heard the entire film was without subtitles or dubbing. A film all in sign (Russian or Ukrainian sign language I’m not sure) with a wide release, how did that happen?
Lots of critics have been praising The Tribe for being a universal kind of movie, able to cross borders for its lack of dialogue. It has also been called a new take on silent films. To me, this proves how important this project is. What most critics are picking up on is the film’s subculture/counterculture story that’s been seen before. A story about a marginalized group reorganizing within themselves for survival and power could be seen as a universal story. But this film is far from silent and is full of dialogue.
What audiences and critics are seeing, however, is a film for hearing people by hearing people about Deaf culture. Though the filmmakers were careful to keep any speaking out of the film, it still has sound to accommodate hearing audiences. It still has a lot of repetition so no one misses anything, and it’s still not from a Deaf perspective. A movie for hearing people in sign language makes for a unique experience. Audiences are still not spoon fed by any means and are expected to do half the work. The obvious language barrier results in some missed details, but people will just have to get over it.
Overall, I felt like the filmmakers and writers have chosen to respect the culture and language of the Deaf actors and community in the Ukraine while simultaneously respecting filmgoers as experienced enough to follow along. Would it be better if Deaf films by Deaf filmmakers were given bigger budgets and a wider release? Sure. But this film has started a dialogue among people who saw the film and even people who didn’t, if only to talk about how crazy violent it is. The story is engaging and the characters are super interesting, but it’s mad violent and depressing. Several people walked out of the screening I was in. I highly recommend everyone see this movie, but be warned: this film is not for everyone.