Camila (1984)

Maria Luise Bemberg’s 1984 film Camila, is a historical romance, based on a true story, that not only depicts a captivating love story, but makes a powerful statement about Latin America’s political history, past and present. The tale takes place in Argentina in 1847-48, and centers around Camila Gorman, the young daughter of a wealthy and influential Argentine family, and Father Ladislao Gutierrez, a young priest with familial connections as lofty as Camila’s. Free-spirited and very intelligent Camila is drawn to Ladislao, who betrays a strong sense of social justice in an early sermon. The two become illicit lovers, as Ladislao’s priesthood forbids him romance. When the two flee, a scandal erupts, ignited by the fury of Camila’s father, and the scorn of the powers that be.

Camila closely follows the true tale of Camila and Urladislao, mirroring it in all of its melodrama. The two lovers’ story is one beloved by many Argentines for its timeless romance. Bemberg’s film maintains the romance, but at the same time transcends the typical conventions of melodrama, by inserting a powerful veiled message about (then-current) political trends in Argentina. In addition, the film deals with the challenging aspects of Argentina’s history in the post-colonial period, including oppression, overbearing patriarchy, and some of the questionable positions taken by the Catholic church during this time. The story itself, despite its popularity, was repressed by the Church, due to its unscrupulous role in the condemnation of the lovers.

The film takes place during a tumultuous period in Latin American history. Argentina won its independence in the early 1800’s. Following independence, a state of near-constant war existed in the country. This period is characterized by unrest and division between the many differing colonial, indigenous, and racial interests of Argentina’s inhabitants. Power changed hands many times before a national constitution could be established. Juan Manuel de Rosas was a typical Latin America ruler of this period. He came to power in 1829, and established a country where wealthy landowners held power. He increased the holdings of the Argentine state, despite being at war with various European interests, including a French blockade, throughout his rule. He maintained power through terror, and demanded total support from all factions of society, including the Church. He mandated the wearing of red ribbons as a sign of support, an icon that is very visible throughout Camila. It is important to note that Argentina under Rosas was oppressively patriarchal, another theme that plays an important role in Camila.

Despite the historical setting of the film, Bemberg uses the classic love story as an allegory for Argentina durning the lat 1970’s and early 1980’s, when the “National Reorganizing Process” waged a “Dirty War” in which over 30,000 dissidents and opponents of the state simply disappeared. The mood of stifling repression ever present in the film reflects the mood in Argentina during this recent era of history. The role that Rosas plays in the film, in which he does not actually appear, but maintains an aura of malicious omniscience, is symbolic of the modern Argentine state, in which Bamberg lived and worked.

Camila is a melodramatic love story on the surface. One that was cherished by the Argentine people. On another level, it is a subtle critique of current affairs in Argentina at the time it was made.