September 17, 2004

A Silent Love

Directed by Federico Hidalgo Starring Vanessa Bauche and Noel Burton

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, A Silent Love sets out to explore the dynamics of a mail-order marriage. It's always refreshing to see a homegrown film appropriately reflecting upon Canada's omnipresent diversity and immigration issues, although this particular effort doesn't ultimately venture into any ground not already covered by similar films like Green Card or Sylvia Chang's Siao Yu (a more serious treatment scripted by Ang Lee).

Through an internet service, middle-aged Canadian professor Norman (Noel Burton) and twenty something Mexican schoolteacher Gladys (Vanessa Bauche of Amores Perros) have corresponded for a year with the aid of a translator. Despite the fact that they can barely converse, they decide to get married and invite Gladys' widowed mother Fernanda (Susana Salazar) to join them in Montreal. Apparently still ambivalent about the arrangement, Gladys often bursts into melodramatic tirades worthy of a soap opera on Telemundo. She constantly argues with Fernanda - en Espanol - as if the dumbfounded Noel is invisible.

That language barrier is not something that just the protagonists have to struggle with. Feebly written with prosaic dialogue, the multilingual screenplay makes about as much sense as the lyrics to Livin' la Vida Loca. Like its running silent-film motif, most everything in the screenplay fails to communicate the meaning and significance of the story.

The characters are constantly making rash decisions and taking action on a whim, such as Noel giving Gladys a home office or Gladys taking a job as a dishwasher in a Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant. What do these episodes mean? Should we care? It's not as if they shed any light on the characters' personalities or advance the story. On the rare occasion the screenplay allows some explanation, it awkwardly engages the characters in tactless and humiliating confrontations. For instance, Gladys and Norman's dinner party guest dishes out hot potatoes like "You got to admit this system of wife-buying is pretty colonial."

A Silent Love misses several opportunities to meaningfully explore obvious subjects, such as the cultural shock of moving from Mexico to Canada or the effect that a generation gap has on a marriage. First-time director Federico Hidalgo seems totally uninterested in his characters, and invests no time in examining their motivations, values and cultural differences. It's really a shame, because the film might have been fascinating if he actually bothered to.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.