Gabriella, directed by Bruno Barreto, seeks to portray a society grappling with the effects of liberalism. Liberalism sought state control over society, and it was often sexist and racist. The film portrays the dangers to liberalism by deeply examining Gabriella’s situation as well as Nacib’s situation. In doing this, there is no hero in the film. Both characters have equally redeeming and demeaning qualities. Gabriella wants to get out of poverty while Nacib wants to ultimately be a productive member of society by having a family. Gabriella uses sex to achieve a better economic situation, and Nacib has sex with a woman he employs. It becomes obvious due to all the character struggles in the film that Gabriella‘s end game is to portray the problems with the politics of liberalism.
First of all, the film portrays many characteristics of the liberal revolution. For example, liberalism was a break out against the church. In the textbook, it says the pope led a spiritual attack against progress, and conservatives regarded the church and government as one and the same. But liberals moved away from the church, which is evident in Gabriella. There is only one scene in a church. It’s after the climax of the film, and during the scene, it seems that Gabriella and Nacib have come to repent after their marriage has fallen apart. But, right after the church scene the two have sex in the street. They appear to have learned nothing, and they have not changed. These events show the lack of the influence the church had in a liberal society.
Another quality of the liberalist revolution which the film affirms is the lack of a feminist agenda. In the reading, “The Campaign Against Wife Killing in Brazil,” Susan K. Besse said that the campaign against wife killing was aimed to preserve the family. It was not out of a desire to defend women. The Conselho Brasileiro de Hygiene Social (CBHS), which translated in English is the Brazilian Council on Social Hygiene, was founded by public prosecutors who said that love, honor, political or religious ideals did not justify acquitting those accused of crimes of passion. This liberalism reflected their ideals of going against the church, as well. In the end, their campaign was part of a larger reform movement to eliminate the ungluing of the family. The idea to preserve the institution of the family is evident through Nacib’s redeeming quality: wanting to marry Gabriella. He likes the idea of a family and of love. It’s fitting with the historical view of liberalism.
While Nacib portrays some ideas of liberals, he goes against other ideas of liberals. He doesn’t represent liberals’ belief that racial mixing is bad and harmful to the institution of marriage. In the textbook, it said liberals considered race mixture a disgrace. However, in the film, there is no opposition to Nacib’s marriage of Gabriella. His best friend encourages the marriage. According to the textbook, such a marriage would have been very controversial. It describes the female author, Matto de Turner, who told the story of an interracial love affair in Birds without a Nest (1889). Turner did not depict indigenous people as savages but as poor people trying to inhabit the present. Likewise, it appears the director of Gabriella is doing the same thing. Barreto tells the story of an interracial love affair and depicts indigenous people as humans, perhaps even as people to be pitied. He redeems Gabriella by portraying her as just trying to pluck herself out of poverty. Her poverty has caused her to use sex as an economic tool.
Lastly, historically liberals did not look kindly on maids, but maids in the film are portrayed in a favorable light. In the reading, “Getting into Trouble: Dishonest Women, Modern Girls and Women–Men in the Conceptual Language of Vida Policial, 1925-1927,” Sueann Caulfield said the writers of the liberal journal, Vida Policial, described maids as prostitutes and blamed them for betraying the institution of the family. But in the film, the black maid is smart and funny. She gives Gabriela advice on how to act with Nacib and makes jokes. Furthermore, the journal was racist by blaming Afro-Brazilian traditions for the ruin of the family.
So, Gabriella portrays a society which was reacting to a political institution which was antifeminist and racist. Liberalism brought education and freedom of religion, but it still had many problems. It makes sense that there is no clear hero of the film. Barreto seeks to say liberalism was not a perfect political institution.