Ukraine’s ‘The Tribe’ Conquers Cannes

With zero dialogue on-screen, Ukraine's "The Tribe" is the subject of many conversations.
With zero dialogue on-screen, Ukraine’s “The Tribe” is the subject of many conversations.

Usually it’s an actress’s wardrobe malfunction or a megalomaniacal director’s off the cuff comments that sets hearts and pulses aflutter at The Cannes Film Festival, but sometimes the work itself can capture this fickle crowd’s attention through the sheer power of visionary filmmaking. Such is the case with Ukrainian writer director, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy and his groundbreaking debut feature, The Tribe.

Telling the story of Sergei (Grigory Fesenko), a kid from the Kiev slums who enters a new boarding school and must navigate the rigid codes of teenage society, Slaboshpytskiy’s film is both a stunning testament to our shared need for belonging, as well as a brutal depiction of the violence and cruelty we often manifest in achieving this goal.

THE TRIBE (Ukraine) is the most talked about quiet movie in Cannes Film Festival 2014.
THE TRIBE (Ukraine) is the most talked about quiet movie in Cannes Film Festival 2014.

That Sergei also happens to be deaf and mute, and his new school, to be one for the hearing impaired, doesn’t make his struggle any less universal. But the director’s daring decision to eschew dialogue or even subtitles in favor of sign language certainly puts the film in a class by itself. At least, that’s what the Cannes critics felt, awarding it three of their coveted Critics’ Week Prizes including the Grand Prix Nespresso Prize, Revelation Prize, and a freshly minted distribution grant care of The Foundation Gan.

Clearly Slaboshpytskiy’s bold move has paid off big time. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film’s “use of sign language, deafness, and silence itself adds several heady new ingredients to the story’s base material, alchemically creating something rich, strange and very original.” Much like the best silent filmmakers of cinema’s early years, the director and his brilliant cinematographer, Valentyn Vasyanovych use gestures and movement, lighting and atmosphere to masterful effect, allowing even those with no understanding of sign language to become quickly transfixed.

It helps too that the film packs enough violent and sexually explicit imagery to keep audiences on their toes, while simultaneously shattering any remaining stereotypes of the disabled as somehow kinder or chaster than the rest of us. Though filmed before the current situation ravaging The Ukraine, it also foreshadows the drama, clearly displaying a people torn between east and west. Yes folks, The Artist, this film is not, but perhaps with a little luck, and certainly some precious Cannes Buzz, The Tribe will demonstrate a set of legs that are just as inexhaustible.

CLICK HERE for Film4 review of “The Tribe.”

CLICK HERE for the official Cannes Film Festival website.

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