The 1983 Brazilian film Gabriela focuses on many aspects of Brazilian society in the early twentieth century. In the beginning of the movie a man murders his adulterous wife and his lover. The man went unpunished and the crime was not looked unjustly upon by the town’s people. The man was even praised for doing the right thing by local colonels, who assured the man he did the right thing. This barbaric and inhumane practice was in fact practiced regularly in Brazil during this time period. In Susan Besse’s reading she discusses this issue saying, “that crimes of passion were by no means a new phenomenon in Brazil; according to Portuguese law, a married man who his wife in the act of committing adultery had the legal right to kill both her and her suitor”. Nacib’s mercy on his wife Gabriela and his good friend Tonico after catching them sleeping together, represents a progressive way of handling outdated practices and policies set up by a male dominated society. Also, since Nacib was a foreigner with mixed heritage, this could be viewed as foreign ideas and culture will lead to progress at home. This issue also comes into play with the building of the canal by foreign designers. This idea that outside ideas will help push Brazil forward.
The movie also demonstrates Brazilian inability to progress. As soon as the foreign canal designer is finished with his work he is threatened to leave immediately. One of the colonels does not take kindly to his love affair. The inability of the professor to find a suitor that will marry him and reproduce with him, along with his low ranking social status demonstrate the lack of importance of education. Military men or Colonels ran the town. Finally Nacib’s relationship with Gabriela can be a metaphor for Brazilian society. He is unable to move forward with his life without Gabriela and eventually falls right back into the same tendencies.
Gabriela’s character is a complex representation of women in Brazil. Her sex appeal allows her to move up in society. This sends a strange message to Brazilian women. She embraces her beauty and uses it for her benefit to catch the eye of Nacib and transcend the class boundaries. But on the other hand her characters emphasis is on pleasing her husband and tending to his needs, which belittles women as mere sex objects and cooks. This helps stress the fact that this was a male dominated society and a good women was one who knew how to play her part. In the end the stringent class barriers become to much for their marriage to uphold, resorting in infidelity. The professors two girlfriends are also scandalous and lust driven. The movie paints a picture of Brazilian women who were viewed by men as sex objects and embraced this power, but need to be kept in line because they are quick to cheat.