The movie Gabriela portrays an era in Brazilian history pertaining to a spike in the number of crimes of passion. The story takes place near the turn of the twentieth century and depicts the trials of a bar owner and his mistress turned wife turned mistress again. Unlike the other movies we have watched in this class, Gabriela did not claim to be historically accurate or portray a version of a historically verified story. However, director and writer Bruno Barreto did make a concerted effort to portray the issue of gender relations that played an integral role in modern Brazilian history.
During this time period, the early twentieth century, Brazil was experiencing a great deal of gender conflict due to “the very rapid rise of urban-industrial society” (Besse 656). Barreto displays this change on both a legal and social level throughout the course of the movie in the small town in which Gabriela and her lover Nacib reside. Near the very beginning of the movie, Nacib encounters the two dead bodies of a woman and her lover. They had been killed by the woman’s husband. Nacib and his patrons at the bar discuss the incident, most of them agreeing that it was the husband’s right to kill them.
As the movie progresses, the town transforms. During this time period, all of Brazil was engaged in a “process through which both urban space and the culturally and ethnically diverse Latin American populations would come to resemble those of white, industrialized Europe” (Caulfield 149). An engineer coming to town is deemed a historical event in the town’s history. A regime change in government alters legal processes, which leads to a man being convicted for the aforementioned crime of passion. When Nacib catches Gabriela cheating on him with his friend, he is rescued from a similar fate as someone walks in on him beating his wife and urges him to stop. Through all of this change, Barreto hints multiple times at the end of the film that he is not encouraged by these transitions. During a ceremony for the new government for the town, Nacib sees the new mayor embracing and talking to a friend of the old regime. Nacib remarks that things are different but also the same, meaning that policies and the people enacting them may change, but society will not improve. Symbolically, the movie ends with Nacib and Gabriela lying in bed, having renewed their love for each other once again outside of marriage.
Barreto also succeeds from a historical standpoint in his reflection of Brazilian culture as centering on family and familial relations. The stability of the family structure was of the utmost importance and any breakdown in this structure was blamed on the woman, who “were held to be responsible for instilling moral values in society” (Caulfield 153). In Gabriela, it was considered cowardly for a husband not to kill his wife and her lover upon discovering their affair, and Nacib considers leaving town after the incident until he decides to simply annul the marriage.