Golden Apricots for the Deaf

in 11th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Victor Matizen

The Tribe (Plemya) by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky is the story of a guy who enters a school for the deaf where hazing reigns and one of the teachers drives the schoolgirls to parked trucks in order to rent them to the drivers. The hero starts to help him but falls in love with one of the prostitutes and tries to stop her engagement in this activity. As a result, he undergoes persecution by his classmates. How it all ends can be seen in Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore, Elephant by Gus Van Sant and The Class (Klass) by Ilmar Raag.

The notion of making a film without speech or the written word is hardly original (see at least Test by Alexander Kott, which was awarded the main prize at Kinotavr this June), but the idea to use deaf actors communicating only by sign language without translation is innovative, there’s no doubt. Unfortunately, this approach compels the filmmaker to create a hackneyed plot (as a more complex story would require translation of the sign language), and what’s more to make a “stretched” movie because the director shoots scenes in real time. For example, when the hero in accordance with the scenario walks up to the fifth floor, the camera follows his way step by step. If Slaboshpitsky had done the same with the steps of the Commander’s statue in the short Pushkin tragedy The Stone Guest, it would comprise a full-length feature film. So, for a comprehensive viewing of The Tribe it is enough to see it on video, pressing the fast-forward button and not worrying about how to get a dose of emotion, as in the movie there are no heroes who deserve sympathy.

The programme viewed by the FIPRESCI jury included Turkish, Ukrainian, Georgian, one Russian and four Armenian films, and provided some idea of modern Armenian cinema through The Abode by Lusine Sargsyan, Tevanik by Jivan Avetisyan, The Romanticists by Shoghik Tadevosyan and Areg Azatyan, and The Thorn by Suren Babayan. All of these films are somehow related to the war over Nagorny Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early ’90s, and none could find the form in which recent history would have found full artistic expression. All these movies, in contrast to The Tribe, suffer from an excess of words into which the characters pour their feelings, but the situations in which they do this appear far-fetched, and their tone seems theatrical. And when it comes to images of war, as in Tevanik, the director starts to act himself as a commander that makes heroes follow his orders, not dictated by the logic of people’s behaviour in war but by his desire to create a spectacular scene. The director’s idea is clear, but for the sake of expression it is still not worth trampling on common sense and piling up absurd situations on the screen.

Edited by Carmen Gray