Film & Cinema21st May 2015

Gritty and Provacative The Tribe Stirs Strong Emotions

Watching with Deaf friends, the use of Ukrainian Sign Language proved to be no barrier at all

by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

Having been given an exclusive interview with the lead actress of the Ukrainian film The Tribe, I had to be first in the queue to buy tickets to watch the film when it was being shown locally at The Chapter House Arts Centre in Cardiff. Attending with a group of fellow cultural Deaf sign language users from Cardiff Deaf Club the write ups from film critics around the world had made me a little nervous, commenting so strongly as they did about the violence and explicit sexual scenes.

Broadly, the film is about a Deaf lad in Ukraine who arrives at a Deaf Boarding School only to be pulled into a violent criminal gang. Falling for a girl, he becomes possessive of her, and ultimately, this leads to violence. Involving deaf actors and actresses, the film is signed throughout in Ukrainian Sign Language. There is no talking in the film, but neither are there subtitles. There is a constant background noise, and some sound effects, although as a Deaf viewer, I could not hear them. For one scene in the film, I am probably pleased that I could not hear them!

Because I had written about the film previously, I knew there would be scenes that I would have trouble watching, so I was interested to see what my friends would make of them.

Within minutes of the start of the film, the Director captures an important part of Deaf culture - the use of light to replace sound for some communication. Drab, run-down and with little financial investment, it was easy to buy-in to this being a Deaf Boarding School. Unable to understand many of the signs used by the actors in the film, I found myself concentrating on the story-line, and using body language and other visuals to aid my understanding. Whilst I may have missed some of the intricate communication, a film using only Ukrainian sign language worked equally well for me and a hearing colleague who was with me.

The film depicts a dire situation for Deaf children at the school and one which makes it is easy to understand why a life of crime might be reasonable compared to the alternative prospects. Deaf girls are sold for sex and the boys use violence to get food and money. The violence used to steal is extreme, but it is only the level of brutality that makes you question the realism of the story. Desperate people do desperate things, and this showcasing of boarding school Deaf education in Ukraine, strongly identifies the marginalisation and downtrodden status of Deaf people. Unloved and unsupported by wider society, the gang put control of their lives in their own hands.

With some sexually explicit scenes, a story of love, protection and jealousy develops in amongst the violence and seedy activities of the group of Deaf students from the school. Sadly, a boy's affections for a girl become misguided and we witness his rape of her, justified purely on the basis of him giving her money. His protection of her, turns to control and possessiveness. Ultimately, it is his feelings for this girl that leads to the closing destructive violence, where he exploits the deafness of gang members to viciously attack them.

Gritty and provocative, this is a film that leaves you thinking deeply about what you have just seen. It was actually difficult to decide whether I liked it or not. The inability to understand Ukrainian Sign Language is forgotten within minutes of the start and you get drawn into the story line. Emotions are challenged as sympathy for some of the characters early in the film turns to anger and loathing by the end.

Do you feel great at the end? No you don't. Have you been royally entertained? Probably not. But have you been pulled through a roller coaster of feelings and emotions? I was.

As for some of my friends, this is what they had to say:

Chris Coles - "It's a very psychological type of film and it's difficult to describe. I think they were very good at acting. It was very emotional and it is a good example of what might be happening in the Ukraine. It was very sad."

Cathryn McShane - "It was tough to watch. It was difficult. It gave me goose bumps. It didn't matter that you didn't know all of the signs, you could follow what was happening, just for me I would have liked to understand what they were saying."

Gareth Freeman - "It's quite difficult to understand their signing and to follow, but I thought it was good."

Wendy Callaghan - "It was weird. It was quite an eye opener about their culture. It was a very interesting film and the actors were fantastic."

Heather Patterson - "The best part for me was the cinematography. The acting was not great and there was too much violence."

Alison Bryan - "The film without doubt brought deaf people to mainstream cinema and went into unchartered waters. However, who did the film really benefit: deaf people or the director's career in terms of being bold? The film certainly wasn't a good advert for deaf education never mind deaf people."

Article by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

posted in Entertainment / Film & Cinema

21st May 2015