Wordless as it is, this debut feature by a Ukrainian filmmaker makes no allowances for its audience's need for dialogue, expository or otherwise.

At once horrifying and mesmerising, it's a work of staggering formal audacity, featuring a cast of non-professional actors all of whom, not incidentally, are deaf. Such words as are exchanged are entirely in sign language and the hearing viewer is unlikely to catch more than the occasional syllable.

Not that it's hard to get the broad drift of a story (and of its constituent scenes) that is as confrontational in its content as it is in its form. A story of innocence corrupted, it's an unflinching close-up ethnographic portrait of a brutalising subculture in a school for the deaf where little learning goes on. Indeed, the only staff member we see after the first few minutes is a woodwork teacher who is knee-deep in the mire of violence, drug-dealing and prostitution that is the school's extra-curricular programme.

The main character, and our proxy for induction into this hell-hole, is Sergey (Fersenko), a new student who is quickly and rudely initiated into the prevailing power structure, one of the planks of which is the pimping out of two of the school's girls (Novikova and Babiy) to drivers overnighting at a local truck stop.

Advertisement

When Sergey makes the mistake of falling in love with one of them, the previously smooth-running enterprise starts to come off the rails.

This is a film that comes at you on its own terms. Most scenes are filmed as long uncut establishing or tracking shots (four in the first nine minutes) in front of which meticulously choreographed movement unfolds.

This scrupulous detail - when a character climbs five flights of stairs, we follow every step of the way - some will surely find wearisome.

But the technique is extraordinarily effective in allowing Slaboshpytskiy to evoke the world of the film. And his cinematographer Valentyn Vasyanovych finds an eerie beauty in the grim surroundings - the pattern of security grilles on windows, say, or the ripple of buckled parquet flooring.

It would be a mistake to go along to this film unprepared - take note of that censor's warning. But it is a bold and brilliant work of great originality that will extend the horizons of even the most dedicated cineaste.

Cast:

Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy, Alexander Dsiadevich, Yaroslav Biletskiy

Director:

Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

Running time:

131 mins

Rating:

R18 (violence, sexual violence, sex scenes, content that may disturb)

Verdict:

Bold, brilliant and confronting.

- TimeOut