This year’s Cannes Film Festival included a unique piece not only to the festival, but to all of cinema — “The Tribe,” a movie performed entirely in Ukrainian Sign Language, with no subtitles and no spoken language. The audacious film has so far received glowing reviews from those who attended the festival, as well as winning three prestigious International Critics’ Week awards.
Like most, we haven’t seen the movie, so we can’t make any judgement. It sounds like the abrasive subject matter and graphic scenes will put many off the movie, but the use of sign language alone makes it intriguing for us. If anyone has seen it, we’d love to hear your own review.
Here’s a round-up of some of the critical reaction to the film (keep in mind these critics are outside of the Deaf community):
Justin Chang, Variety:
"It will be especially interesting to see what deaf viewers make of Slaboshpytskiy’s highly accomplished first feature; engrossingly expanded from the writer-director’s 2010 short, “Deafness,” it’s an unflinchingly pessimistic portrait of a youthful underground subculture that has dealt with its social disadvantages by turning to thuggery and prostitution. Given the emotional/inspirational thrust of so many movies and TV shows (from “Children of a Lesser God” to TV’s “Switched at Birth”) featuring deaf characters, who are often presented in relation to their hearing friends and family, there’s something coldly bracing about “The Tribe’s” total immersion strategy, as well as its utter refusal to sentimentalize its characters and the harsh, isolated world they inhabit."
At a deep level, changes in a language are threatening because they signal widespread changes in social mores. At a level closer to the surface they are exasperating. We learn certain rules of grammar and usage in school, and when they are challenged it is as though we are also being challenged. Our native language is like a second skin, so much a part of us we resist the idea that it is constantly changing, constantly being renewed. Though we know intellectually that the English we speak today and the English of Shakespeare’s time are very different, we tend to think of them as the same—static rather than dynamic.
Language shift amid vast socioeconomic change and the tenacity with which groups hold on to their language despite social and political change are contradictory trends that intrigue but often frustrate language planners and scholars seeking to explain patterns of language use (Rubin 1979). In order to analyze these patterns, many scholars conceive of language as a “social resource” (Eastman 1983a) that is exploited by individuals and groups to affect personal and political outcomes. This perspective has both a micro and a macro component. Socio- and anthropological linguists who take the “micro” perspective focus their attention on individual speakers who vary their linguistic repertoires to establish or adjust their identity and/or to enhance their power. Microanalysis usually involves the systematic observation of linguistic “transactions” in complex urban environments. From these transactions, we see a world in which languages are evolving, where the boundaries between languages are fluid and weak, and in which each person has his/her own repertoire of languages and dialects.