Camila was notable for being the first movie shown in class with a woman in a major role, let alone a complex role complete with agency and top billing. The gendered nature of the film makes it virtually impossible to analyze from a perspective other than the female experience in nineteenth-century Argentina.
The Rosas regime, as portrayed by several visual cues and an overarching threat in Camila, was marked by the support of traditionalists and the patriarchal Catholic Church. Although Elizabeth Dore makes a strong argument for the widening of the gender divide in much of Latin America with the rise of liberalism, Camila O’Gorman was born into the rigid confines of a society in which the father was the spiritual head of a family and the Church’s involvement in marriage reached far beyond establishing a partnership between equals. (On the contrary, marital regulations in Argentina not only prevented Camila o’Gorman and Uladislao Gutierrez from being married, but would prevent filmmaker Maria Louisa Bemberg from obtaining a legal divorce more than a century later.)
Bemberg’s feminist past, as referenced in Donald Stevens’ essay, doubtless influenced certain cases of historical license in the film, including the violent, unforgiving nature of Camila’s father. As presented in the film, Adolfo O’Gorman is a classic villain, drowning kittens in one of his earliest acts and later refusing to intercede on Camila’s behalf, despite the pleas of his family. And while the real Adolfo O’Gorman did write to Rosas, asking the governor to apprehend the pair and placing blame squarely on Gutierrez, this communication is almost equally problematic when looking at the events through a feminist lens.
As Stevens addresses, the letter O’Gorman sent to Rosas is notable for its powerfully suggestive language; O’Gorman is clear about appropriating blame on Gutierrez, painting his daughter as the innocent victim misled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing, seducing her with religious authority and ill intent. While O’Gorman doubtless hoped to spare both his daughter’s life and his family’s honor with this perspective on the events, he simultaneously disenfranchises Camila, portraying her as virtually incapable of making her own decisions and choosing her own fate.
Bemberg takes the opposite path in her film, turning Camila into a seductress who ardently pursues Gutierrez. While Reyes’ accounts of the real Camila O’Gorman’s behavior might bear out this interpretation, it is a deliberate decision on the part of the filmmaker. Stevens and Hart both quote Bemberg on the importance of this choice, as she remarks that if a man had filmed the story, Gutierrez would have been the initiator of the relationship, and that she views her films as “an attempt to make women recognize themselves… [an] ethical commitment, helping women to be free.” As such, Camila is the story of a sexually aggressive, confident woman who refuses to allow conventional, spiritual or parental dictates stand in her way. In this way Camila is doubly transgressive, disrupting gender roles along with the dominant morality of the times.
The religious dimension adds another layer of complexity to the story of Camila O’Gorman, as extramarital sex for men was growing widely accepted, and Stevens remarks that Camila’s disgrace would have been a nonissue had Gutierrez been able to marry her. But again, this scenario places Camila’s own motivations and desires outside the realm of realism. In nineteenth-century Argentina, a sexually transgressive woman wasn’t going to stumble upon happily ever after.
Bemberg gives commendable motivations for presenting Camila as a seductress in full cognizance of the potential consequences of her actions, deciding to forge ahead in the course of love, and damn the torpedos. But another motivation is unspoken in either the film or readings; the alternative situation, as presented by Adolfo O’Gorman in his letter to Rosas, is horrific to contemplate. That situation: a young girl, seduced by a man in a position of authority, eight months pregnant with his child, is put to death against legal regulations because of the threat her affair posed to the patriarchy, regardless of her complicity.