Gabriela is a film based in Brazil in the 1920′s showing both political and social issues of the time period. The central theme of “progress” is portrayed throughout the film as political power shifts from a conservatism to a more liberal trend at the end of the film. The most obvious example of “progress” in the society depicted in the film focuses on the killing of adulterous members of society, or “crimes of passion” as pointed out by Susan K. Besse. The idea of a man being allowed to act with deadly vengeance against his wife and her “partner in crime” lessens with each scene of the film from beginning to end. This theme of “progress” was not exclusive to Brazil. It was a theme which resonated throughout Latin America beginning in the late 19th century.
The political idea of progress portrayed in Gabriela begins early in the film with a focus on the dredging of the harbor. This would allow ships to stop there, allowing the town to become more involved with commerce both domestically and internationally. This theme displayed in the film aligns closely with an example Chasteen gives in Born in Blood and Fire. Chasteen tells of the difficulty Buenos Aires had in commerce due to shallow harbors which caused smaller cities in the nation to gain more commercial traffic. While the leader of Bueno Aires, Mitre, took a military approach to fixing the economical and political problem, the leaders in the film took a scientific approach by manipulating the harbor to allow ships closer access to the shore. In either case, the action taken is less important than the objective achieved; to further the city politically and economically through domestic and international commerce. Through increased commerce, Latin America could begin to modernize in a Western fashion.
Another prominent political aspect of the film shows the allegiance of the local middle to upper class people shifting from the traditional leadership to a seemingly more liberal leader. The power structure of the city early in the film is portrayed as a group of aristocrats, or captains, which hold power without doing much more than visiting the local bar. Through out the film, the aristocrats slowly change their allegiance to a new man who has ushered in the “progress” in the harbor. Through embracing this new leader’s liberal ideology, the aristocratic section of the city essentially placed one man in power, at least for the moment.
The social aspect of “progress” as portrayed in Gabriela revolves around “crimes of passion.” This phenomenon is not exclusive to Latin America, a point Mr. Nacib addresses directly in the film. The “right” for a man to kill his adulterous wife and her accomplice is common in some parts of the world. The film begins with an example of a “crime of passion” as Nacib witnesses a man leaving his home after killing his wife and her adulterer. This killing is completely accepted and defended by the other members of the leading members of society. It is not until Nacib finds himself in the same situation that the change in ideology is portrayed. Since he cannot bring himself to execute his wife and her accomplice, he finds a legal way to separate himself from her while maintaining his reputation. His actions show a progress in society. The progression from inhumane, and possibly barbaric, senseless killing simply to save face to a legal and sane method of separating one’s self from a legal breach of the marital contract. This action opens the society to progress from one of right to kill to one of right to separate. While it was a period of gender inequality, the film portrays women as the people who have the power over men privately. “Progress” occurs when men found ways to remedy adulterous situations sans murder.
Gabriela gives insight into the changing political and social climate of Latin America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The changes in these societies were not as simplistic nor based necessarily on the love of one man for one woman as portrayed in the film. The time period was one of “progress” in Latin America.