The 1984 Argentine film Camila, directed by Maria Luisa Bemberg, is a passionate portrayal of the real life romance of Camila O’Gorman, a young woman of status, and Fr. Ladislau Gutierrez, a Catholic priest in Buenos Aires in 1847. Out of context, the film is a forbidden romance between a strong female protagonist and her lover who struggles with choosing between love and his commitment to God. However, with knowledge of the historical background, it becomes clear that Camila is Bemberg’s commentary on Argentina’s flawed political past.
The authoritarian position taken by Camila’s father, Adolfo O’Gorman, was common for the paternal role in Latin America during the 1800s. In her article “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”, Elizabeth Dore explains that the male head of household held supreme power over the family and that his wishes were to be obeyed in order to maintain a societal structure. This model was so significant that Dore quotes Nicaragua’s Fruto Chamorro as saying in in 1853 “I will maintain the peace, but like a good father of the family I will punish the wayward son who disturbs it.” Though Adolfo was portrayed as wanting to make an example of his daughter for questioning his authority, the article by Donald F. Stevens explains that the historical figure of Adolfo was concerned with Camila’s safe return, waiting five days before alerting the authorities in order to keep the story quiet and avoid scandal. The purpose this character assassination by Bemberg is to have a representative of Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas in the film.
Rosas’ influence in Argentina was represented by the red ribbons worn by most citizens as a sign of support for his political party and portraits of himself that were on display in the church. This Orwellian presence made Adolfo the perfect candidate for his representative due to a society that Dore says “advocated a political model wherein male elders represented both the family to the state and the state inside the family.” The representation of Adolfo as Rosas indicates that he is a father figure that is always watching.
The absence of Rosas also serves the purpose of helping the audience to equate the action on screen with the political climate in Argentina at the time of the film’s release. As pointed out by Stephen M. Hart in his analysis of the film, just prior to the production of Camila Argentina had experienced the Dirty War in which “the Asociacion Anitcomunista Argentina which, unseen by its victims or their next-of-kin, ‘disappeared’ 30,000 people from 1975 until 1983.” The parallels between these events and those of Rosas in the film would have been recognized by the audience, causing a strong emotional response. Hart quotes King as saying that for the audience, the film acts as “a form of collective catharsis, enabling them to experience, in public, emotions that had remained private during the years of the dictatorship. Over two million people wept at the story of Camila O’Gorman, which was their story.”
Though Camila is not historically accurate in its portrayal of specific individuals, by linking the events of the past with those happening at the time, Bemberg commented on her society’s political climate. The device of a story about forbidden love in combination with compelling characters enabled Camila to reach its audience in a way that few documentaries would have the power to do.