The 1983 Brazilian film Gabriela follows the story of Gabriela and Nacib set in 1920’s Brazil. Starting out as is lowly cook and maid, Nacib begins to find himself falling for Gabriela as she uses her sexuality to herself win his favor. The historical implications of the film center around the construct of gender and class in Brazilian society. Overall, Gabriela functions well as a period piece about the history of gender relations in Brazil, as Gabriela represents two different sides of womanhood in Brazilian society. On the one hand, men are all drawn and attracted to her, but she also embodies all that is not be desired in a wife.

Historian Sueann Caulfield in her work “Getting into Trouble” writes that gender and sex was a primary way of signifying relationships of power. For Gabriela, as a poor girl who does not have a wealthy family, or even papers of her birth, her prospects to find and marry a respectable man are remote. Nacib even laments this to his friend at point in the film when admitting that he is in love with Gabriela, but unsure that he could marry her. At this point in time, social status and staying within societal norms is valued over the quest for “love” in marriage. Nacib is rare in that he breaks with the traditional ideas of appropriate marriages and has papers forged for Gabriela to allow them to marry. There were additional concerns within Brazilian society about the purity of women, with virginity before marriage being critical for a woman to have value. Caulfield writes that family was the driving force behind established the standard social order and that a man’s honor was directly tied to the “honesty” of his woman.

When Nacib discovers Gabriela in bed with his best friend Tonico Bastos he is distraught, and it seems as if he may kill them both. This scene was foreshadowed earlier in the film when Nacib says that if a wife is found cheating on her husband, she is killed and the man castrated. Yet when the time comes, Nacib is unable to go through with a revenge passion killing. Based on Susan Besse’s “Crimes of Passion,” the standard belief in Brazil was that a husband that had been cheated on had every right, both under the law and society to kill his traitorous spouse. Even more so, not acting in revenge was seen as a dishonorable act and grounds for repeated and sustained ridicule. Nacib is forced to nullify the marriage in order to avoid having to leave town in dejected shame. It is interesting that there would be such significant difference placed by Brazilian society if the cheating took place in an mutual “marriage,” that was only later deemed counterfeit. Indeed, there was campaign led by the Brazilian Council on Social Hygiene to put an end to wife killing and other crimes of passion largely tolerated in Brazil. Acceptance of such acts, however, would be viewed along gender and social class lines. Nacib’s decision to not kill Gabriela or Tonico probably has nothing to do with the movement against wife killing only beginning to form when the movie is set. It is far more likely that Nacib is simply in love with Gabriela and unable to bring himself to kill her. This is supported at the end when Nacib and Gabriela make love after all that as happened.