The film Gabriela tells the story of a white man named Nacib who falls in love with a seductive woman he hires as his cook. Gabriela is the classic stereotypical character of the beautiful mulata. She is beautiful and she knows it and she knows how to use her wiles to seduce men. The film takes place during the time of much political and social change in Brazil, most notably the perception of crimes of passion. Before this time, if a woman was caught in an adulterous or innappropriate sexual affair, it was acceptable, even legal, for her and her lover to be killed by her husband, fiancee, brother, or father (Besse). Honor was taken extremely seriously among Brazilians at this time and being cuckolded by a woman was the ultimate sign of weakness, lack of control, and loss of masculinity. Therefore to reassert his manhood a man was expected to deal with such a situation with the utmost violece.
In the movie, a woman is murdered by her husband when he walks in on her having an affair with another man. In Nacib’s bar, the men of the town gather to gossip about the recent events. Most of the men agree that the murderer was well within his rights when he killed his wife. They also agree that he will recieve no punishment for a crime that is seen as nothing, but necessary. Only a couple of men disagree with what had happened. At first Nacib, says that he would do the same to his wife, were he to have one, but later he goes to the funeral of the murdered woman, implying that at least a part of him is grieved by the violent occurence. Ironically he will be put in the exact same situation later in the film.
As for the relationship between Nacib and Gabriela, he is captivated by her primal sexuality. He looses himself in her completely. He becomes jealous of her attentions and wishes to keep her out of site of the other men in his bar who are equally as captivated. Within the changing dynamic of their relationship we see Brazilian men’s expectations and ideals of women at the time. Gabriela is uneducated and behaves nothing like a woman of society would. In the beginning this is what Nacib is most attracted to. After they marry, however, Nacib’s expectations of Gabriela change. He takes her to see a silent film despite her illiteracy and refuses to answer her questions lest anyone esle in the theater realize she is unable to read. He forces her to attend a lecture because everyone who is anyone in the community will be in attendance. She is no longer allowed to dress in the revealing fashion to which she is accustomed or to go dancing about in the streets barefoot. Before they were married Nacib was less controlling because her behavior was of no consequence to his social standing. After, however, everything she did reflected directly on him, therfore he became more controlling. Ironically, as she conformed to his demands he became disatisfied with the change in her demeanor.
Nacib’s manhood is put to the test when he comes home to find Gabriela in bed with his good friend. Even though he has a pisto andl is prepared to kill them both, he is unable to go through with it. Because of this he decides he must sell the bar and leave town to avoid ostracism because of his loss of honor. However, perhaps he is lucky he was not able to kill Gabriela because the laws of the time were changing and what was once an acceptable display of masculinity is no longer sanctioned, as was seen with the fate of the murderous colonel from the beginning of the film.