The End of Silence Commentary

Good stories often begin with the question, “What would happen if….” This seems to be the premise with which writer-director, Anita Doron, starts her first full-length feature film, the End of Silence (2006). What would happen if… barring illness or accident, someone whose success depends on her ability to communicate, were suddenly plunged into an environment where she could no longer do so, where each day moves her farther and farther away from everything she understands, everything that gives her significance?

In Doron’s story, the protagonist is the lead dancer in a touring Russian ballet company. In Toronto, Darya (Ekaterina Chtchelkanova) quits her job after her director badgers her one time too many about her performance. Doron does not examine the reasons why Darya loses heart and walks away from fame and a good job. She is much more interested in what happens next.

We first encounter Darya in her natural element: dancing on stage, receiving flowers and acclaim from the audience, talking to her mother in St. Petersburg by phone, laughing and joking with her friend in a coffee shop. She has money to buy what she likes; she floats down the street in a full-length fur coat. Her beauty is almost ethereal. A recurring black and white flashback of an empty wheat field reminds the audience of the rural life that Darya has left behind. She clearly doesn’t belong there.

One day, while having coffee with her friend, she notices Eddie (John Tokatlidis), a handsome young man sitting at a table nearby. He inserts a quote by French Renaissance poet François Villon in book that he leaves for her on the table; oddly enough, Villon is her favourite poet. The problem is that she can’t read the English translation. This small frustration is just the beginning of the silencing of Darya.

Shortly afterward, Darya leaves the company and takes a cheap hotel room for a few days. She has no plans. At first she has fun walking the streets of Toronto, shopping and enjoying her freedom. One day she wanders into an antiques shop, which just happens to be managed by Eddie. She is lonely. He takes pity on her and asks her to move in with him. They can barely communicate, but their relationship grows without words. Elegant, evocative scenes without words show Eddie and Darya exploring Toronto together, decorating their apartment, and gradually falling in love.

No matter what Darya may have gained by way of personal freedom and meeting a good man, she has also lost a great deal. She cannot communicate with Eddie’s friends or family; at social events, she sits in a lonely corner.  She cannot discuss ideas or literature or art with the man she lives with. As her money runs out, she sells her signature coat and then her camera; Darya can feel her identity dissolving. Her mother refuses to speak to her on the phone any more. Periodically, Darya walks into a building that houses a ballet school. She watches the dancers quietly for a few minutes and then leaves. One evening she goes alone to a Russian nightclub, where she dances and soaks up the language that she has been deprived of. The flashbacks become more frequent and more colourful, and the camera pans across larger and larger portions of the Russian countryside, as Darya feels increasingly nostalgic.

Darya meets Eddie’s ex-wife Nora (Sarah Harmer) a strange, driven, edgy woman who works in a vaguely arts industry sort of warehouse. Nora seems to be in charge of logistics, moving stock from place to place. It doesn’t matter what she actually does; Doron includes her as a foil for Darya. Except for short, staccato, telephone conversations, Nora appears to revel in working completely alone. Her marriage to Eddie has been extremely brief; she doesn’t seem to be able to sustain physical closeness. However, even though she and Eddie have split up, they call one another often. Eddie seems to provide just that minimal level of support that Nora needs: he is at the other end of the line when she needs him to be.  They do not speak. Darya, on the other hand, needs physical and emotional closeness – she communicates with her body as a dancer and as a lover. She enjoys telling jokes, gossiping, and discussing literature. But she is trapped in a linguistic jail that constrains everything she needs to be and do.

Nora seems to understand Darya better than Eddie does. She offers Darya a job as a cleaning lady at the warehouse. Darya can now earn money and be useful. She dances against a white void and dreams once more of that Russian wheat field, which now includes a young Darya walking alone. When she accumulates enough money, Darya does the only thing that she can do  -- she ends the silence that is killing her and returns home.

This poignant first feature won Best Feature Film in 2006 at the Canadian Filmmakers Festival.

Evelyn Ellerman