Montreal is a city of two languages. Unfortunately, Spanish is not one of them, and therein hangs A Silent Love, twisting with awkward pauses and precious little dialogue.

This is what comes of wife-rummaging on the Internet, a 21st-century throwback to the mail-order-bride plot device of old. Director Federico Hidalgo and wife Paulina Robles have concocted a nearly mute little screenplay that is more mimed than verbalized. In time, over time, it rises to tentatively bilingual. Ironically, their spare script has won two festival prizes; count this as reflected glory for the three leads who make the story felt.

Norman Green (No"l Burton) is a middle-aged Montreal college professor who treks to Mexico, flowers in hand, to propose to the much-younger Gladys (Amores Perros' Vanessa Bauche), whom he wooed with poetic e-mail. She says yes-provided her widowed mother (Susana Salazar) can come along, too. He agrees, and the website matchmaker throws up his hands in dismay, rescinding his "61% chance of success."

As if the situation weren't enough to tip the scales, the casting director has provided us with an elegant-looking mother-in-law who seems far more substantial and compelling than her daughter. She is also closer in age to the husband and generally more simpatico with him. Initially, he looks professorially disheveled and uninteresting, much like John Wood on a good day; then, she styles his hair after a Rod LaRoque picture she finds in a book and-voila!-turns him into William Holden. He, in turn, provides her a tropical plant for her room so she won't miss Mexico, but it keeps falling over. At the first shiver of the Canadian winter, she bolts back below the border, leaving the newlyweds to their stagnating marriage and the petty misunderstandings that spring up from the gap in ages.

It's not every man who comes to the conclusion that he loves his mother-in-law more than his own wife-enough to divorce the latter, marry the former and take it from the top again-but it's not unprecedented (one example: Republic's westerner, Rod Cameron). Hidalgo scales this obstacle with surprising grace and ease, thanks to a skillfully constructed script and his three emotionally engaging stars, particularly the luminous Salazar, who pulls the audience over to her corner early on and never lets go of them.

What's more, no words are wasted in the process. Ethnic and emotional barriers eliminate automatically the chitchat, the better to focus on a marriage going south. The title underscores the silence. And, too, the newbie husband teaches silent film, which permits Hidalgo a chance to sprinkle his film with some Keaton and von Stroheim here and there.

-Harry Haun