Gabriela is a story of seductive young Brazilian who finds love in Nacib, a bar owner in 1920s Brazil. It has all the contents of a soap opera- love, betrayal, murder, and a happy ending. The lives of those characters seem so ridiculous to actually occur; yet in Gabriela, the lives of those characters represent a segment of actual Brazilian life.
The film opens up with the murder of a married woman and her lover. The bar owner did not go to the police but kept it to himself. He did not discuss the issue until he was at the bar amongst the prominent men of the town. They were not alarmed but, nonchalantly, the act itself served as daily gossip. In Brazil, this was a normal occurrence. The film itself was predominantly from a male perspective. The audience learned everything through the discussions at the bar where the town’s most prominent men gathered. The message there is that it’s a traditional man’s world, and this was the way real Brazilians lived their lives. The women were traditionally responsible for raising the family and instilling moral values in society (Caulfield 153).
But from around 1910 to 1940, social roles in Brazil began to change due to the concern of wife killing (Besse 653). It was the job and duty of women to maintain a virtuous lifestyle and family. Because the national interest in these crimes of passion, the blame had to be on the women who had failed to do their job. Failure of providing a morally sound ambience, they caused the violence of men (152).
Vida Policial, a Brazilian magazine, described a chain reaction, the women fail to instill moral values. The female children become promiscuous, and the male children are seduced to produce “degenerate offspring,” inevitably leading to the nation’s ruin (154). In order to present an industrialized nation, they called on men to “police their women” (159). After all, men had a legal right to kill their wife her and her suitor (653). But the movement to civilize Brazilian life led to the protection of women (654). Eventually, wife killing was no longer a right but a crime and was seen as barbaric (660).
In this time, there are conflicts of two ideologies that contain sentiments of a traditional past versus the futuristic idea of a civilized society. In the film, the male and female protagonist fall madly in love and enjoy their time unmarried. She is reluctant to get married, which rebels against the idea of a modern Brazil But due to societal pressures, they marry. By marrying Nacib, Gabriela becomes valuable property that should not be touched by anyone. Once again, affirming the idea that it is patriarchal, traditional society. However, Gabriela represents the modern Brazilian woman who finds power in her own rebellious nature. She refuses to remain in her shoes and escapes to the circus after a “civilized” poetry reading. She is not traditional by any means. Her rebellion to the monotonous ways of marriage propels her to cheat on Nacib. He also does not follow societal pressures by not killing Gabriela or Tonico.
Ultimately, they remain together but only as couple in love, not as a married couple.