Why was a romantic tragedy film so successful? Camila (1984) managed to tug the hearts of not only Argentinean audiences but also worldwide audiences, leading to an Oscar nomination. One of the most important features of studying history is being able to recognizing the past and connecting it the present. What audiences in Argentina felt was the similarity between the oppressive government regime then and their own experiences with the military regime. Camila is about a young socialite who elopes with a priest during the struggle between Unitarians and Federalists in 19th century Argentina. Immediately, there are three conflicts that will keep these two lovers apart. Being a socialite implies that she comes from a prestigious family with a traditional male breadwinner. The second taboo is that her lover is priest, a man that has made a pact of celibacy. Lastly, the political conflict that ultimately resolved itself with the triumph of the dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, end the journey of these lovers. Thus, their love fights all forms of paternalistic order- family, church, and state (Stevens).
Maria Luisa Bemberg co-wrote and directed the film. She hardly had to alter any events from the actual story. But what made it successful was Bemberg’s strong presence in the film. It is predominantly resonated in Camila’s personality. Bemberg, a feminist, makes Camila an assertive woman who knows what she wants (Stevens). Bemberg’s interpretation of this story is essentially that Camila’s independent nature carried her romantic journey against her patriarchal surroundings. Knowing Camila’s personality, the audience notices that Ladislao and Camila’s love is not black and white. Stephen Hart notes that they have each have a view of love that differs from each other, which produces a problem in their relationship. Their feeling of love is the same because they both consent to eloping. However, their different views of love prevent them from eloping again once they are discovered. Camila’s view of love comes from a rebellious, romanticized way of life, whereas Ladislao has made a pact to the church and God, to dedicate his entire being to a life of servitude. Once they eloped, Camila is living her romantic vision, however, Ladislao is continuous tormented. Is he immediately discard his pact that was, until that point, his life? Bemberg makes Camila’s love stronger to demonstrate that she is the cause of their journey. Therefore, Camila’s defiance in a patriarchal society makes it more offensive to the forms of the order. Were the leaders more upset that it was morally wrong in the eyes of God? Or were they attempting to protect the image of a patriarchal society?
In colonial Latin America, there is this ideology that constitutes the entirety of political life. It is that legitimacy of the state is from God (Dore). Those that ruled the state were the men with wealth and professional status (Dore). But in Camila, even they have to subject to the rules of Rosas. Rosas was born into a wealthy and professional family, but he ran away and became a gaucho. Ironically, with an occupation of the subordinate class, he managed to become ruler of the exploiting classes. But to Rosas, the “true crime” that they committed was defying him, not the church or their families (Stevens). In the film, it is Camila who seduces the priest; therefore she has defied the state, her family, and the church.