The Tribe (Blu-ray Review)

TribeBD-3DI feel like it was forever ago that I wanted to check out The Tribe, a film containing no dialogue whatsoever, utilizing sign language as its only means instead. This Ukrainian drama is quite the draining film experience, given how involved the story is, based around a boarding school filled with criminal activity. Still, The Tribe is quite the accomplishment for a variety of reasons and now everyone can learn more about it, thanks to this solid Blu-ray release from Drafthouse Films.




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As stated, The Tribe revolves around a boarding school, where we follow a new arrival, as he navigates his way through living there. Things are not that simple though, as this school for deaf children has various youths involved with organized crime and prostitution. The main character, Serhiy (Grygoriy Fesenko), does what he can to navigate his way through some dark areas, but he gets a little too close to keep things from becoming personal.

This is the debut film from director Myroslav Slaboshpystskiy and while there is an obvious device used to make The Tribe a unique piece of cinema, it is to Slaboshpystkiy’s credit that the film becomes so comfortable with its approach. There is a level of understanding required to get used to what is happening, but you begin to pick up what is going on pretty quickly and ideally become engrossed in the story from there.

The use of sign language and physical acting makes for an interesting experiment in just how necessary it is to hear actors talk, when there are so many other non-verbal ways to communicate. Much like the film Tangerine, which was shot on iPhone cameras, The Tribe may have something of a gimmick to promote interest, but the acting and story being told manage to overtake just how necessary it is to rely on those aspects to properly engage with the film.

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

Putting the sign language aspect aside, this is quite the harrowing story. It is, at times, difficult to watch, as you see various forms of violence visited upon some key characters. One also has to wonder just how likable you are supposed to find certain characters, or if you should have a drive to make you want to see where there journey is taking them. The Tribe does not go easy on the results of the activities of these characters.

Keeping these characters in mind, the cast is made up of non-professional actors, but you would hardly know it. Obviously the sign language aspect makes it hard to distinguish some of the authentic actions on display, but a read of the body language does plenty to suggest what is going on and I was never in disbelief of how things were going down.

The Tribe is a unique film to say the least, but it almost plays like an even deadlier version of Rian Johnson’s Brick in the sense that we follow a group of teenagers through a series of criminal events and we are a witness of them through stylized means. There is a lot to take in with this film, but it is effective in its style, with the added pleasure of getting an intense yet engaging story.


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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail: Regardless of the approach to dialogue, the video presentation on this Blu-ray for The Tribe is quite strong. Shot on 35mm in widescreen, we get an appropriately gritty-looking film that really adds further emphasis to the film’s tone. There is plenty of detail to be found in the minimal sets featured and the look of snow always wins me over.

Depth: There are a lot of exteriors and certain indoor sets that do a good job of providing a look at the dimensional work when factoring in the various amounts of characters featured.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep with no sign of crush. Lots of outdoor sequences make the use of film obvious, but not in a way that hurts the quality.

Color Reproduction: This is a fairly drab picture, but certain sets feature rooms or exterior locations with particular colors that pop when needed. The same can be said for the clothing on certain characters.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent throughout. The film is not heavy on close-ups, but you can see what you need here.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing.



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Audio Format(s): Ukrainian & Russian Sign Language DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH for Non-Dialogue Audio

Dynamics: So things get tricky here, as The Tribe features no dialogue or music. The entire film is made up of sound design and some various noises from characters due to either their actions or heavy breathing. As a result, it is a little tough to judge, but the Lossless audio track never steered me wrong as far as hearing the most minimal of audio balanced with the noisier background elements.

Low Frequency Extension: The sound of loud trucks helps this area out quite well.

Surround Sound Presentation: Again, nothing to speak of as far as a center channel-focused dialogue-free film goes, but the balance is fine.

Dialogue Reproduction: Are you kidding?



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I did not necessarily expect a lot and the commentary really does its job, but it would have been nice to get an actual look at the filmmaking process for such a unique movie.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy and film critic Devin Faraci – Faraci is a good enough speaker to get a lot of good information out of Slaboshpytskiy. It makes for a solid track.
  • Interview with actress Yana Novikova (HD, 21:41) – Using subtitles for sign language throughout, we get a good segment chronicling what it was like to make a film like this.
  • Deafness, Slaboshpytskiy’s 2010 award-winning short film (HD, 9:47) – Having watched The Tribe first, this was a good look at the director’s style in an early form.
  • Trailers
  • Digital Download
  • Color Booklet


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As intense as it was, I was very happy to finally see The Tribe. The film presents a unique style (I didn’t even touch upon the minimal approach to editing leading to some very long takes), a fine handling of characters who have a very specific way to communicate and confidence in telling a dark story. The Blu-ray is a solid package in regards to its technical presentation, with enough in the way of extras to make it worthwhile as a whole. If you’re looking for something different, The Tribe is worth taking a look at.

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