Meekly wait and murmur not

A new film from Canada chronicles the complexities of international relationships

Neil Munshi

In the world of mail-order brides, where women from poor countries are chosen as wives by men from rich ones, something is bound to be lost in translation.

From the beginning of first-time director Federico Hidalgo’s “A Silent Love,” we are meant to feel the jarring, offsetting effects of quiet film professor Norman and mail-order-bride-to-be Gladys’ new situation. But at times, the director pushes the audience too far, with shaky camera work and wide-angle crane shots meant to display the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of his characters.

The plot involves Norman (Noel Burton) choosing Gladys (Vanessa Bauche) as his bride through an Internet agency. He travels to Mexico from his home in Montreal to retrieve her, and she brings her mother along to help her get situated.

Both Gladys’ and Norman’s friends think the pair are plumb loco for hoping the marriage will work. But the two are lonely, and the agency has guaranteed them a 61 percent chance of having a successful marriage.

The film seems to race past the pair’s development as a couple, and we never really get to know either of them. As time elapses, we see Norman falling in love with his 28-year-old bride’s mother, Fernanda (Susana Salazar), who is much closer to his age.

Hidalgo seems to have shunned anything in the way of subtlety as he interjects scenes from silent movies to further accentuate the distance between our main characters.

A group of party-goers is silenced at the couple’s home as a silent film switches from a slapstick scene to one in which a domineering older man is seen with a disheveled and dirty younger woman. Here, it seems as if Hidalgo has gone too far, but he redeems himself, if only for a moment, if you allow him to take you where he leads.

A scene in which Norman and Gladys listen to headphones and recite phrases in each other’s languages as they try to learn them is funny and charming – as is the film on the whole – but something is missing.

Maybe it is because Canadian Norman and Mexican Gladys are frequently speaking in each other’s language, rather than their own, but their dialogue seems forced. It is as if they are trying to act like people having trouble communicating, instead of just being those people.

A great deal is made of the distance between husband and wife, but in forcing the divide, the characters fall further and further into the background.

Gladys’ mother, played by veteran Mexican television actress Salazar, is a notable exception. Salazar gives Fernanda an air of subtlety and grace in the midst of her increasingly difficult situation and actually seems to grow physically more beautiful as the film progresses and Norman’s love grows.

Bauche, who plays Gladys, found international fame with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Oscar-nominated “Amores Perros.” She shines in this role when she is free to express herself in her mother tongue, but Burton remains unnatural, even when speaking English.

Maybe the actors should be commended for offering up the discomfort of their characters’ situations in an awkward way. While the film maintains its charm and humor and is a novel take on an interesting subject, it feels like something is missing, or it ought to be.