While romanticized in brilliant, daytime shows, “crimes of passion” were common occurrences in pre-modern areas of the world, such as Latin America in the early 20th century. Defined on The Free Dictionary website, a “crime of passion” is considered to be “a defendant’s excuse for committing a crime due to sudden anger or heartbreak, in order to eliminate the element of ‘premeditation.’” In the film, Gabriela, the idea of “crimes of passion” lays the undertone of the movie’s plot as the relationship between a bar owner, Nacib, and his mistress, Gabriella, begins to heat up during the transition of Latin America towards a progressive future.
According to Susan Besse, a crime of passion was as public a sight in Latin America before “positivism” occurred in the legislature. Men would normally slaughter an adulterous wife as a rational solution for their situation. Latin American men treasured their pride and reputation far more than their feelings for their wives, exhibiting how the gender role for women was considered to be unequal to that of a man. A primary example of women being considered unequal in the movie is when an adulterous woman gives her secret lover money in order to buy shoes, so that he “may always think of walking all over her.” Women were satisfied with the hegemony between themselves in men, accepting their status as long as they’re provided for in material possessions. In the film, Nacib and his bar patrons agree that a husband is justified in killing his cheating wife, rather than allowing the embarrassment to harm his reputation as a man. As Sueann Caulfield describes, the status of family honor is placed on a pedestal in Latin American society, and wives were used to uphold the status of their husbands. Throughout the film, it is commonly seen for men to take women of a wealthy status as their wives, in order to increase their own status.
The threat of receiving ridicule from his peers drives men to commit murder against unfaithful wives, exhibiting the failure of a woman’s duty to instill a moral conduct in the men, according to Caulfield. Traditional belief that while the men were the considered to be the more aggressive type gender of the two, it was the responsibility of a woman to teach the indecency of homicide. Thus, when the Colonel murdered his wife in the beginning of the film, the wife could be considered the true criminal of the two for failing to teach her husband that homicide is wrong.
However, two acts in the film highlight the transition from traditional beliefs in Latin America towards a progressive era. The first, Nacib agrees to marry Gabriela on the basis of love rather than for a wealthier status. While arguing against the idea of marriage beforehand, saying that his mistress had no dowry or authentic citizenship, the bar owner decides he would rather be married to Gabriela because he loves the woman. The second act, at the climax of the film, Nacib does not kill the adulterous Gabriela. The positivism is slowly affecting the Latin American area, as the need to apply justification to murders becomes apparent. The Colonel who earlier slaughtered his wife receives his punishment, while Nacib is not ridiculed for sparing Gabriela.