I want to see this film. The Ukranian writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy made his feature debut this past year with a film that focuses entirely on signing deaf teenagers at a school for the deaf in Ukraine. Outside of their daily lives in the classroom, these characters organize themselves into gangs and form and break alliances interlaced with complex group dynamics, sexual explorations, and violence. Crucially, the film immerses itself entirely in sign language, with no subtitles and no voiceover to clarify its dialogue to viewers, but critics have nonetheless been enthralled by its presentation of human community, connection, and strife onscreen. "The Tribe" won several critics' choice awards at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this past week, including the top prize at Critics' Week, and has been drawing abundant attention for its cinematography.
Ukranian sign language is different from other sign languages around the world, and so I and other deaf Americans would be watching this film nearly as immersed in a foreign language as other audiences, but the experience sounds thoroughly worth it. In an age where foreign-language cinema is becoming more exportable for audiences around the world, this film's success makes me wonder what would be possible for deaf and sign language films in the future. As an artistic medium, it seems very promising. How might films like these prompt audiences to think differently about the nature of human communication and connection, whether verbal or nonverbal?
However, the use of sign language, deafness and silence itself adds several heady new ingredients to the base material, alchemically creating something rich, strange and very original.