the queen of silence


As THE QUEEN OF SILENCE begins, we get a curious sensory mix. First we hear a discombobulated voice, like something speaking in Pentecostal tongues. Then there’s a high-pitched whine, like what you get when you trace the rim of a wineglass with your finger. Finally, a jangling of bracelets, in time to some sort of unheard rhythm…and yet, not quite on-tempo.

At first one wonders how any such cacophony could co-exist…but then we meet Denisa.

She is the ten-year-old subject at the centre of THE QUEEN OF SILENCE. This energetic youngster lives with a camp of gypsies outside of a city in Poland, however she is something of an outcast within the community given that she is deaf and has never been taught to communicate. While the film casts glances at the community and its struggle to avoid being swept away by overzealous locals, two events play a part in shaping Denisa for the better.

The first is the discovery of a Bollywood DVD, which seems to inspire and energize this girl to act and move with an even greater amount of exuberance. The second is a doctor’s appointment which gets her set-up with a hearing aid. Even though she remains at a disadvantage, it at least gives her a sliver of a chance at communication, and greater acceptance with the other children of the gypsy camp.

Perhaps the most immediate impact of THE QUEEN OF SILENCE – besides its stunning look and youthful energy – is the lack of narration. Never once does it want to dictate to us what Denisa has gone through or what lies ahead for her and her community. Instead it just wants us to look and listen. It wants us to let the story unfold in good time, and let both the moments of beauty and those of tragedy play for full, unadulterated impact.

The power of this film is in its ability to transcend genre. From moment to moment it is a story of social inequality, a whimsical youth adventure, one girl’s coming-of-age, or a Bollywood romp. Watching the way all of these sorts of stories orbit around Denisa is deeply engaging and moving, as is the way it effortlessly flips from one angle to the next.

What all of these techniques and story threads seem bent on doing is to have us consider the world from Denisa’s vantage point. Not to walk a mile in her shoes exactly, but instead to live in something of a bubble. While she clearly could do with many more essentials in her life (let alone luxuries), she seems to find life and joy in what she has. She’s always looking around, always making herself known, always moving, and always smiling. There’s so much more she could be getting out of life, but there are also those who get so much less.

We get the sense that Denisa understands that, and while the film might be a nudge to provide more for children like Denisa, it’s also a subtle plea for the rest of us to be happier with what we do have.


THE QUEEN OF SILENCE plays at Hot Docs 2015 tonight, Friday April 24th – 7pm at The Royal Ontario Museum. It plays again at Scotiabank Theatre on Saturday April 25th – 5pm, and finally at Isabel Bader Theatre on Friday May 1st – 1:15pm (official website)