“Gabriela” (1983) takes a look at the changing gender roles and relations in Brazilian society during the 1920′s. The character of Gabriela, a poor woman hired to cook for a wealthier man who later marries her, represents the emerging independent woman in Brazil. The beginning of the film interestingly opens with Gabriela’s new boss, Mr. Nacib, discovering that a local colonel has shot and killed both his wife and her lover. The killing of one’s wife and their lover for infidelity was quite common in Brazil in the 1920′s and these “crimes of passion” were usually not prosecuted until a movement finally emerged led by female writers and powerful male attorneys to put an end to these crimes in Brazil.(Besse)
According to Portuguese law, which Brazil was under during the colonial period, a man had the right to kill both his wife and her lover if he caught them engaged in infidelity. This practice did not end with the termination of this law. It was still considered relatively socially acceptable in Brazil up until the 1920′s, when many started to believe that the situation was getting quite out of hand.(Besse) For example, the feminist magazine “Revista Feminina” reported that the rate of husbands killing their wives was rising drastically. “The number of women killed by men in Brazil rose from 1 every 12 hours in 1919 to one every half-hour in 1924!(Besse) The film reflects the varying opinions on the subject. The men at Nacib’s bar state that they believe that the colonel will be found innocent of any wrongdoing in the killing of his wife and her lover.
Mr. Nacib finds himself confronting the very same situation as the colonel at the beginning of the movie when he catches Gabriella in bed with his friend. Nacib, however, chooses not to kill the two but to let them go. This possibly represents a changing of the times, to a society oriented on law and order and modern standards of conduct. This changing of society is also present in other parts of the film. Gabriela is a very free-spirited woman who comes to the bar and is also sexually liberated. Caulfild points out the changing of gender roles in Brazil. He states that the behavior of women and girls in Rio De Janeiro was of great concern for the police and many of their actions, such as dressing scantily, were considered very harmful to the social order and general welfare of Brazilian society. Gabriela embodies these characteristics that the police at the time were concerned with. She often dresses relatively scantily and enjoys going to the circus rather than more “cultured” lectures. The movie, overall gives some insight into the changing of Brazilian society in the 1920′s and how economic growth and prosperity as well as the influx of new ideas was causing a drastic change in society regarding gender roles.