Maria Luisa Bemberg’s film Camila is based on the story of Camila O’Gormon, daughter of a wealthy family living in Beunos Aires, as she struggled to thrive within the confines of a patriarchal belief system and escapes by running away with a Catholic priest she has fallen in love with. This film follows closely to historical records of how the local authority of the caudillo, Juan Manuel de Rosas,impacted the people of Buenos Aires. Bemberg highlights the powerful legal actions taken for opposition to the Catholic Church and for opposition to the patriarchal model common in mid-1800 society. Bemberg used specific symbols in the film that were replicas of symbols used by Rosas to facilitate subordination from the people of Buenos Aries. Though Bemberg admits to dramatizing the characters to capture her audience, she does not stray far from the actual dynamics of family, state, and church that existed during the well documented tyranny of Juan Manuel Rosas.
A brief summary of the political climate of Buenos Aires as found in John Charles Chasteens novel Born in Blood and Fire helps to set the stage for the historical accuracy found in Bemberg’s film. Following Independence from Spanish control in 1810, Buenos Aires struggled to establish a new governing order. Though the need to overthrow Spanish control had united the people of Latin America, once that common goal was achieved, each region became nations divided as each region attempted to gain a national identity and find a means to self-govern (chasteen 121-122). Coming out of a highly controlled hierarchy of power divisions, claims to power took on similar markings of those of the monarch systeim where the wealthy sought to remain in control over those in lesser positions. Elizabeth Dore writes in her article on Gender and the State in the Long Nineteenth Century that Latin American liberals believed “it was the natural right of men with wealth or professional status to exercise political authority”. Though divides would show themselves in areas such as the role of church and education, what seemed to be of general concensus was the belief in popular sovereignty, which at this time was freedom of males to vote leaders into office. So the Province of Buenos Aires was established as a new republic. What ensued in Buenos Aires was a shifty republic where those with wealth used their wealth to reward friends and followers with financial security and protection of property in exchange for their loyalty and their vote, a corruption otherwise know as patronage. This patronage system envoked the creation of caudillos, the men to whom the people paid their patronage.( Chasteen 125-129).
Juan Manuel de Rosas, a wealthy cattle rancher and particularly rutheless caudillo, violently bullied his way to the top of the political running and became the leader of Buenos Aires from (1829-1852). Rosas strongly enforced the structure of paternalistic order, where he was “the father” of his region and had ultimate power. As Donald F. Stevens simply stated that, “In the Province of Buenos Aires, Rosas word was law. There was no other authority, no balance of power, no source of appeal.” Everyone was made to be a subordinate to Rosas.
The character of Juan Manuel de Rosas has a strong presence throughout the film by use of various symbols. As depicted in the film, and noted in Stevens article, the people of Buenos Aires were forced to where red ribbons or red emblems that demonstrated their support of Rosas. Also shown in the film were various shots of Rosas pictures adorning the church and prison acting as constant reminders of the reaches of Rosas. The scene in the film of soldiers of Rosas order coming into the town and killing the local bookstore owner for selling illegal books not approved by Rosas would have been a very realistic outcome under Rosas rule.
Another notable historical depiction in the film were the numerous implications of the limited rights and roles of women.Camila’s father gives her the ultimatum of marrying her chosen suitor or to join the convent as these were some of the few options available to women. Also having the choices made for her by her father depicts the expectation that the father was the leader, much like Rosas, and females played a subordinate role in the household.
The death of Camila and the young priest Ladislao by firing squad was Rosas way of making an example of those who bucked the social roles defined within his orders. Camila had broken the role of subordination to her father. Her choice to love a priest had brought scandal to the Catholic church. Her actions brought more scrutiny to Rosas rule and made people question whether the limits of his power and the limts of the power of the church were out of balance with the peoples ability to pursue individual happiness.