Camila is the story of a rule-breaker. Unfortunately, however, her disobedience spells her death, as the patriarchal tradition of postcolonial Argentina did not easily pardon social transgressions. As Hart notes, the film Camila drips with melodrama, but it nevertheless showcases the ways in which patriarchy circumscribed asymmetrical power relationships among peers and the state in postcolonial Argentina.
It is clear from the film that the structure of Argentine society in the late 1840s is vertical. There are slaves and masters, wives subordinate to husbands, and men subordinate to the caudillo, Rosas, whose conservative tyranny controlled and frightened the city of Buenos Aires from 1829-1852. The deflated liberalism and conservative ascendancy systemic to the first generation of postcolonial Spanish America is reflected throughout the film, most notably during Ladislao’s sermon denouncing the murder of Mariano, the bookseller, as a state action. Before his death, Mariano furtively hands an outlawed book to Camila. Additionally, Camila voices liberal discontent during a political discussion at the family dinner table. These examples illustrate the ways in which political dissatisfaction simmered underneath the surface of Argentina’s conservative tyranny. Indeed, the father effectively silences Camila’s opposition by sending her to her room, echoing the violence and control exercised over the population by Rosas.
At its heart, however, Camila is the story a subversive woman oppressed manifestly by Rosas’ regime, but in effect by the patriarchal tradition embedded within her country’s larger culture. The Camila of the film is partially Bemberg’s creation, but as Stevens suggests, the actual Camila seemed to exhibit a similar spunk and defiance. Camila’s actions throughout the second half of the film seemed fueled in part by her natural boldness and lack of agency. The absence of an opportunity to fulfill passion in a way sanctioned by the church or state drove both Ladislao and Camila to sacrilege, but allowed them to form a new family unconfined by patriarchy, state control, or religious restriction. The patriarchy dominates, however, as the state aggressively pursues the lovers in an attempt to exemplify what happens to transgressors and quiet criticism of Rosas’ waning power.
It is impossibly to tell, however, that Rosas fielded criticism over the incident. His presence is everywhere felt throughout the film, in portraits, in conversation, even in dress. Such embellishment emphasizes his power in postcolonial Argentina, and the control exerted over the population. Another stark contrast between the film and reality concerns Camila’s father. Despite the rigidly unforgiving position chosen by her father in the film, in reality her father pleaded with Rosas to aid in the return of his daughter, and most especially in the maintenance of his good name. The subsequent denial of his request meant no help would be forthcoming, rather violent censure, and likely stung that much more because it insulted her father’s patriarchy and portended the public degradation of his name.
Camila engages the tumultuous political history of postcolonial Argentina, as well as that generation’s struggles with patriarchal control. On the whole, the film emphasizes more than fact in its Romantic and melodramatic portrayal of that historical incident, and the depiction is certainly skewed toward audience relatability, but it remains a valuable, feminist interpretation of the story.