Tag Archives: Deaf mute


DIRECTED BY: Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

FEATURING: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova

PLOT: Upon arriving at a school for the deaf, a teenage boy is quickly recruited into a vicious gang that conducts petty crimes, including prostituting two female students.

Still from The Tribe (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although a Ukrainian juvenile delinquent movie told entirely in untranslated sign language is far off the average person’s radar, the straightforward subject matter isn’t weird enough for the List. The Tribe is more of a formal novelty than anything.

COMMENTS: First there was Deafula, and now The Tribe. That’s where sign language cinema begins and ends. The Tribe is not made for deaf audiences, however—Ukrainian sign language is not completely intelligible to signers of other nationalities—nor is it about the experience of being deaf. Being able to read sign language would frustrate the intentional alienation effect and impede the film’s experiment in non-verbal storytelling.  With patience, you can follow everything that happens in this archetypal gangster rise-and-fall tale: our (essentially) nameless protagonist (the credits call him Sergey) is forcibly recruited into the local syndicate, proves his worth in a series of trials, rises on the ladder, and comes into conflict with his superiors. The details of what the deaf characters are actually saying to each other, and the few narrative mysteries that pop up, are cleverly divulged through context or cleaned up by later revelations, no differently than they would be in a spoken language feature. The complete removal of dialogue takes silent film one step further, and enforces a dogmatic minimalism on the picture. Language, you realize, only provides detail, and here the details have been stripped away. The rest of the film’s style—bleak sets, absence of music, extremely long takes—reinforce the starkness.

The long takes, although well-executed, are the film’s biggest drawback, in that Slaboshpytskyi habitually keeps the camera running far longer than necessary—sometimes on scenes that are themselves unnecessary. Sergey’s introduction to the school includes a long ceremonial ritual where students give flowers to their teachers and several minutes of unintelligible (to us) lecturing (in one of only two scenes set in the classroom); this far more than satisfies our need to orient ourselves in a school setting. Finding a room for that first night is a similarly drawn out process, as sleeping arrangements seem to be unassigned, then later there are scenes of two girls getting passport photos and waiting in line to see a government functionary…. Although the length of each of these scenes reinforces the movie’s ponderous rhythm, by the end, the 130-minute running time becomes problematic. It’s axiomatic in writing that you include nothing unnecessary in the finished work, and there are entire scenes here that could have been easily cut. I’m not including the scenes of brutal violence and cruelty (which are justified by the milieu), of near-explicit sex (less justified), or of a real-time back alley medical procedure, in that assessment. These “strong” scenes provide a nihilistic artsploitation sensibility that will turn off many, but supply the film’s primary appeal for some.

Even though understanding precisely what’s being said in sign language is not necessary to follow the plot, constantly seeing the characters communicating on the screen without knowing what they’re saying creates a level of frustration and anxiety in the viewer. It’s an inversion of the deaf person’s experience in the speaking world (although that fact is more of a footnote than the film’s raison d’être). The fact that the story can be followed at all—much less that it is at times gripping—is a testament to the director’s skill. It’s an artful gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless, and The Tribe is more of a great achievement than a great movie. Days later, I was still wrestling with whether I liked it or not, and whether (and to whom) I could recommend it—which is a sort of tribute, I think. Letterboxd user Brian Koukol nailed The Tribe‘s position in film history when he described it as “a merit badge for a cinephiles.” I’m not sure if the reward here is commensurate to the challenge involved, but you won’t forget the experience.


“…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.”–Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)


DIRECTED BY:  Jamie Babbit

FEATURING:  Elisha Cuthbert, Camilla Belle, Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, Katy Mixon

PLOT: A deaf girl becomes ensnared in her adoptive family’s amoral dysfunctions.

Still from The Quiet (2005)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:   The Quiet is an artfully produced, comparatively non-formulaic independent film, but it’s not a dramatic enough departure from the thriller genre to constitute a truly weird viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  Strong sexual themes ground this strange tale of a family slowly going insane.  After her father’s untimely death, deaf-mute teenager Dot (Belle) is taken in by her godparents (Donovan, Falco) who from outward appearances have a conventional, affluently idyllic suburban life along with their cheerleader daughter Nina (Cuthbert).  Dot’s transition is derailed by increasingly disturbing conflicts and revelations. Her new family has dark secrets.

A sick, twisted dysfunctionality plagues the household.  Trapped between an opiate addict mother, licentious father, homicidal sister, and perverted new beau, Dot struggles to keep her perspective.  Unable to readily communicate, and with no outside party to turn to, Dot is at a disadvantage when her demented new family draws her into a sordid web of immorality and charade.  The line between spider and fly becomes blurred, however, when it turns out that Dot harbors her own eerie enigma.

The Quiet rips the facade from blissful, suburban tranquility in the tradition of movies such as American Beauty and The Safety Of Objects.  Less satirical than the former and not as convoluted as the later, The Quiet is a suspenseful drama with an hypnotic narrative tone reminiscent of One Day Like Rain and Make-Out with Violence.

The Quiet is a well produced film with a perverse story.  It does not set out to be a black comedy, or a sophisticated social indictment of suburbia, although it contains some elements of both.  Neither is it a movie with a message or mere exploitation.  The Quiet is a simple, racy, psychological thriller.  With some hauntingly memorable dialogue, it is arty yet lucid, brooding and visually dark.  While more twists and turns would have provided greater depth, it is structurally complete enough to be worthwhile for patrons seeking a departure from blockbusters, crowd-pleasers, and annoying Lifetime Network potboilers.

Feminist director Jamie Babbit’s other films include But I’m A Cheerleader and Itty Bitty Titty Comittee.  Viewers will recognize Cuthbert from the sensational The Girl Next Door.


“…flirts with the trappings of exploitation cinema without going all the way. The director… suggestively crowds her two talented leads together, but can’t push them or the film into the fairy-tale surrealism to which she seems to aspire.”–Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

The Quiet trailer