Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

7.4 Plemya/ The Tribe (2014)

The first feature-length film by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy (Ukraine, 1974) was Plemya/ The Tribe (2014), entirely shot in sign language with no subtitles, and performed by an ensemble cast of non-professional deaf actors. The director indulges in virtuoso widescreen shots that often show us the action from a safety distance. Sometimes there is an entire room between the camera and the action, or a road, but this allows the camera to show us more than just the actors at work. There are no close-ups of the characters: we are led to judge not from their facial expressions, but from their body movements. The film focuses not in the general story but in the particularly disturbing moments (like the hazing or the abortion), which are shot in painful detail in one uninterrupted take. The preference for lengthy continuous takes also increases the ability to focus on the psychological disturbing elements of an action. Violence doesn't come in footnotes, it comes in bursts, and it feels extreme even when it is actually just a mugging. These tactics create an atmosphere of relentless brutality. The director hijacks our traditional perception of deaf-mute people: instead of vulnerable helpless creatures, here they become savage beasts. People are waiting at a bus stop and buses come and go. A child gets out of the bus and looks disoriented. He asks a lady for directions by showing her an address on a piece of paper. Another bus arrives and blocks our view of the two. The woman writes something on the piece of paper. The kid walks to a building where a woman is speaking in sign language to a crowd of families: we understand that it is a boarding school for the deaf and mute, and that the silent kid is one of them. After the crowd leaves, the kid walks in. Meanwhile, the woman is already in her office having a meeting in sign language with a man. The kid enters her office and introduces herself. The woman then sends him to a classroom where a female teacher is teaching in sign language. When a light blinks, the class is adjourned. The kid follows the others in the large cafeteria. An older guy tells him to follow him to a secluded corner of the courtyard, where they meet another guy who delivers some bags. Then the older guy tells the new kid to undress and inspects his body. Then the older guy takes him to a room shared by two girls, one of whom is scantily dressed. The girls get angry at him and kick him out, while the older guy laughs at him. Four guys run down the stairs. The older guy hands them the bags of goods and they fight over them. He then calms them down. We understand that this older guy is a sort of leader of the gang. Three guys walk into the kid's dorm room and demand that he moves out. He packs his suitcase and sits outside. He follows a guy who walks out with two girls. They board a van driven by a bald middle-aged man who works at the boarding school. The girls change clothes in the van. The car drops the girl and the guy in a parking lot full big trucks. We realize that the guy is a pimp and the girls are being sold every night as prostitutes. The following day a kid is biking to a park and signals all the other kids to gather. Four guys walk the new kid in this improvised arena and start punching and kicking him. It's four against one, but the new kid hurts one of the attackers and has to be restrained. The audience leaves. We understand it was a hazing ceremony. Now the new kid is accepted. One evening three guys pick up the new kid and walk out in the streets. They follow a man carrying two bags, then they attack him and beat him up to steal his bags. They meet other kids in a nearby amusement park and split the loot. Now the new kid is officially a member of the gang. The following day the deaf-mute thugs board a train and mug a passenger. At the dorm they are angry at the new kid. They search his room as if he hid somehing. They drag him to the bathroom, and the leader takes his watch, his ring and his money. One night the van drops the prostitutes in the parking lot. The pimp negotiates with the truck drivers and finds two customers. The pimp stops to enjoy a cigarette and doesn't see (nor hear, of course) that a truck runs him over and kills him. Four kids meet with pimp and the two girls. The van drives back to the parking lot and the new kid is now their pimp. On he way back he pays one of the prostitutes to have sex with him, which they do on the floor of the basement. A man in suit and tie comes to visit the bald man (the driver of the van), bringing gifts. While they eat, they work out a deal with the prostitutes The businessman opens a laptop and shows them pictures of Italy and gifts them Italian tshirts. The following night the new kid (Sergey) pimps one prostitute but locks his favorite in the van. We understand that he fell in love with her (Anya) and doesn't want her to prostitute herself anymore. This gets him kicked out of his dorm room and sent to share a room with a mentally retarded kid. The van takes the two girls to an appointment with the businessman, who takes them to a government office where they presumably apply for a passport. When the girls come back to the boarding school, Sergey tries to speak with Anya but she repels him. Sergey is demoted to selling toys to train passengers, but he doesn't miss the opportunity to steal money from a purse left abandoned under a pillow. Later he has oral sex with Anya who is delighted to see the money. Anya has a heated argument with the other prostitute. Anya visits an old woman in a squalid home and offers the money that Sergey gave her, and we soon realize from the preparation and the tools that the old stone-faced woman is an abortionist. She forces Anya's legs open with strings and then enters her vagina with her sharp tools to kill the foetus. The van (the bald man) takes the girls to the Italian embassy to get their visas. The businessman is already in line with all the paperwork. We finally realize that the bald middle-aged driver is the instructor of a woodworking class. Sergey is his best student: he has made a perfect hammer. Night-time, Sergey uses the hammer to kill the bald instructor and searches every closet and drawer of his apartment (presumably he is looking for Anya's passport), destroying as much as he can. He enters the girls' room while the girls are sleeping, wakes up Anya, gives her gifts that he stole from the dead man, and rapes her. She looks desperate, probably scared of getting pregnant again. The following day the girls receive the passports with the visas, but Sergey takes Anya's passport and runs away. The other kids grab him. While they try to hold him still, he starts eating the pages of her passport. The other guys drag him to the bathroom and push his head into a sink full of water. Anya saves him and the thugs leave him after breaking a bottle on his head. It is snowing. He walks in the snow alone, pensive. He walks back to the dorm and enters a room where two of his fellow thugs are sleeping. Sergey grabs a night-stand and crushes the head of one of them. Then he kills the other one the same way, with another night-stand. Then he calmly walks away and enters another room. He repeats the operation on the two sleeping occupants. He walks away calmly again.
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