The 1984 production of Camila is based upon a true story of a girl living in nineteenth century Argentina, according to Donald F. Stevens. The movie tells the story of a young girl, Camila O’Gorman, who witnessed her grandmother experience the long arm of the law for pursuing a forbidden love and the toll it took on her entire life. Her grandmother’s death was, perhaps, a poignant moment for Camila because she had also fallen in love with a forbidden man, a priest named Ladislao. Her grandmother had been banished to live a life without her true love and with the stigma of dishonor. Camila did not want to die without having love. Watching her grandmother go mad throughout her years in seclusion had an enormous impact upon her future decisions.
Camila lived during a time of strong patriarchal control by her father and also by the government and the church. Elizabeth Dore states in her writing, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Gender and the State in the Long Nineteenth Century, that “a well-ordered society was composed of well-ruled families.” In the film, she is seen confessing that she has been arguing with her father, whom she says is stubborn. This scene indicates her unwillingness to be controlled. She also confesses a dream she has had about herself and a man. The audience feels the dishonor of such a confession leap off the screen. The priest tells her that dreams are “born in the heart.” Perhaps a warning to the young girl that she had better beware; her heart was not baring forth honor. Donald F. Stevens’ analysis of the film compliments director Maria Luisa Bemberg’s ability to remain true to the time period of the film in portraying a woman’s “struggle between patriarchy and passion.” For Camila, living under such constraint was to live a life without true love.
To portray Camila as “strong-willed” she is seen buying a book, for which she receives a warning for her actions, and she travels home unaccompanied with a male friend leaving onlookers shocked (Stevens 91). Later she sings a song about a man falling into a trap he can’t refuse; a definite picture is painted of a young woman who ignores the social constructs in which she lives and as the “instigator” of the ensuing affair between herself and the priest, Ladislao (Stevens 91). But, Camila is not simply portrayed as a girl without honor. One scene shows her fanning her female slave, a sign of compassion and love. Camila ignored the social, gender and ethnic hierarchy rules from the start.
Some film disparities, such as portraying Ladislao as a Jesuit priest who preached openly against the regime of Governor Rosas, was purely for dramatic affect, Stevens says. The patriarchal system was set up in such a way that Governor Rosas would have acted quickly to punish such insubordination and disrespect (Dore 11). Stevens also points out that the courtship between Camila and the priest, Ladislao, was probably much more conventional than scandalous as portrayed in the film and that if anyone suspecting anything “no one dared to denounce their relationship” or make an “accusation of dishonor” (91).
Camilla and Ladislao eloped from Buenos Aires in December 1847. They lived under the assumed names of Valentina Sanz and Maximo Brandier until Ladislao’s identity was discovered at a party. Soldiers come to get them in the “name of the government” which was interesting considering that they were both charged with sacrilege. The Church was thinking about its reputation, her Father about honor and Governor Rosas about power (Camila). Their crime was punishable by death. Authorities found out that she was pregnant and acknowledged that it was illegal to kill a pregnant woman; however the Governor sent word that she would die anyway. To him, the true crime was not the affair, but that they “mocked his authority” and defied him “in the eyes of society” (Stevens 96).
Some liberties were taken with the elopement of Camila and Ladislao, such as: leaving in the middle of the day in a shade drawn carriage. Stevens points out that evidence shows that they left at night on horseback which would have been much more unnoticeable, cheaper and cooler.
Bemberg also portrayed Camila’s father as arrogant, harsh, unforgiving, and caring only about his relationship with the Governor. He was portrayed as a child reporting in to his father about a wayward daughter who needed punishment. Stevens offers that when one examines her father’s words to Governor Rosas more carefully, one will see a “less menacing and more sympathetic” figure. Stevens argues Adolfo O’Gorman was a father who was trying to save the reputation of his daughter, as well as, that of his family. Honor was everything. He’s also shown as writing the letter to the governor in haste and anger, while Stevens says he actually waited several days. Another account says that he only wrote the letter after the governor had already learned of the scandal. There is symbolism throughout the film of Governor Rosas’ overbearing presence. There is symbolism in Rosas’ portrait, as the “watcher” and in the red ribbons everyone wears (Hart 111).
The statement is made in the movie, “Women can be an instrument of the devil.” It is obvious that that was the perception of the many within the church and government during that time period, thus the enforced patriarchal system. Bemberg wanted her film to be a way in which women could learn about themselves. She felt that Argentina had an exaggerated masculinity view and she wanted her film to be a “social critique of woman’s place in society” (Hart 112). So, Camilla was portrayed as the stronger of the two and also as the one who initiated the affair, which was different from traditional versions (Hart 112).
The film, Camila, portrays the struggles of a people trying to live under the patriarchal system that stretched into their laws, their faith and their homes. For Camila, she could not survive under such circumstances.