In the film, Gabriela, the relationship displayed between Gabriela and Mr. Nacib paralleled Brazil progression to becoming a more modernized nation. Part of this progress was attributed to international trade, which seemed to be the main factor in the movie that transformed this town’s legal system into a more just rule. In Gabriela, Brazil’s progress was represented by the mistreatment of wives and how the husbands remained unpunished for their crimes of passion.
According to Chasteen, due to international trade, Brazil began to want to imitate European type governments and societal structures in order to “fit in” with these nations accepted ideologies. This want meant the reconstruction of legal and societal practices performed in Brazil at this time. In the film there is an obvious battle between the old-minded conservatives and the new-minded liberalists. These two sides are always seen opposing each other at Mr. Nacib’s bar and other social events. In the film, this struggle takes its most prominent form in the mistreatment of wives. At the beginning of the movie a man kills his wife and her lover in an act of passion when he learns she is having an affair. Instead of being punished for this act, the local authorities congratulate him for acting like a man. They assure him that he will receive no punishment for his crime. This was the type of action that liberalists rejected. They wanted a system that was just for all citizens. When the town is gossiping about the murders, Mr. Nacib comments that he would do worse if he found his wife unfaithful. He says he would cut her into tiny pieces for her infidelity, a mindset held by backward nations. However, when he discovers Gabriela’s infidelity, he spares both her and her lover. This reaction represented the progression of Brazil. At the end of the film, after the new government is in place, the husband who murdered his wife and her lover is rightfully punished. Mr. Nacib, because of his mercy toward Gabriela and Tonico, avoids the punishment that would have befallen on him, had he reacted in the manner of the latter husband. The old hierarchy was replaced by a new model that helped transform Brazil’s ideology to one that resembled France, England, and the U.S.
In the film, the progress for women was slow and manifested itself in the relationship between Gabriela and Mr. Nacib. Gabriela, showed how women’s rights slowly progressed and how this new way of thinking brought morally superiority. This film presented the injustices done to women and showed the bias of the Brazilian law that favored men. According to Susan Besse, under Portuguese law, a man had a legal right to kill his wife and her lover. These crimes of passions exploded in the early 20th century to a point where women began to fight back. Women writers began furiously attacking this practice and demanded retribution. Though change did eventually come, many men first viewed this change as a form of demasculinization. Many felt that a man had every right to murder an unfaithful wife and her lover. However, crimes of passion soon became associated with the ungluing of the family structures and the chaos that Brazil was experiencing. “The attempt to curb wife-killing…formed part of a larger project to “civilize” and “elevate” Brazilian society” (Besse, 655). Thus, the tolerance for crimes of passion slowly began to diminish. This was portrayed in Gabriela when Mr. Nacib spares Gabriela and Tonico and when the murderous husband is finally punished.