Maria Luisa Bemberg’s film Camila is a story of passionate love during political conflicts of nineteenth century Argentina during the dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas (1829-1852). The film is a political statement on the severity of the tyrannical Rosas government and it also provides a feminist point of view through the intellectual and assertive protagonist, Camila. As a film, Camila is melodramatic at times, but as a political statement about the inhumanity of repression by both dictatorships and the church, it makes its point effectively.
“If a man had directed “Camila”, I’m sure it would have been a story of a gentle innocent seduced by a libertine priest. My story is about a passionate woman’s intellectual and sexual seduction of a man she found morally desirable” (Stevens 86). Bemberg’s angle makes the film distinct, breaking the tradition of a mainly patriarchal perspective in film. During the nineteenth century, public domains such as education and employment were predominantly male, and thus gave officials the power to decide what “proper” behavior was. Men had the authority to exercise power over their wives and children, but Camila represented the search for gender equality. She stands for female independence at a time when women lived for finding a wealthy man to marry and form a family with. Unlike Camila, her sisters find their suitors throughout the film and keep quiet and listen at the dinner table when political issues are discussed. They are the representation of the “proper” woman of nineteenth century Argentina. Camila’s decision to elope with Father Ladislao was definitely not considered proper behavior at this time. This scandal caused a huge uproar throughout Argentina, and eventually leads to their demise.
Through Camila’s father and the tyrannical idea of Rosas, the film creates an immoral image of males through both characters violent tendencies and unforgiving attitudes. The red ribbons seen worn on the male characters throughout the film are symbols of the people’s obedience to their tyrannical dictator. They were worn as a public acknowledgement that the people had conceded to his power. Along with the tyrannical government, we see a certain amount of violence in Camila’s household. In one scene, Camila is afraid her father will kill a litter of kittens if he discovers them. In the scene where Camila’s brother informs her father that Camila has eloped with Ladislao, he is supervising the slaughtering of cattle. Because Rosas was not actually a character in the film, Camila’s father represented Rosas through his unforgiving authority. The tragic ending to this love story represents the severity of the government and the unforgiving attitudes it had to Camila veering away from what society has deemed “proper” behavior for a lady.