Signs of Progress in “Gabriela”

The 1983 release of Gabriela depicts Brazilian society in the year 1925. The backdrop of the movie focuses on the growing middle class and the rise of technology in the way of plans for a new harbor to be built. The main story of the movie focuses on the lusty romance between a simple maid named Gabriela and a middle class bar owner named Mr.Nacib. As Nacib becomes progressively enraptured with Gabriela and decides to marry her, marriage does not fit with the untamed ways of Gabriela. The storylines combine to demonstrate how the attitudes toward modern technology and “Progress” threatened the customary beliefs held by conservative men of upper and middle class status and also highlights the restrictions in established gender roles of both men and women. 

 After a short time trying to fit the profile of a married woman, Gabriela seeks to find different ways to free herself from the expectations of marriage. Prior to meeting Nacib, Gabriela (though poor) had enjoyed the freedom to live without the pressure of societal expectations of chastity for making a proper wife. By historical accounts noted in Suenna Caulfield’s review of the Vida Policial Gabriela would most likely have been considered a social deviant with her choice to attend Carnival and as a poor woman automatically dubbed immoral. Basically, any woman that deviated from the social expectation of maintaining virginity for marriage was considered a corruptor of society. When Gabriela is found commiting adultry, this would traditionally warrent Nacib with justified grounds for murder. Crimes of passion were a hot topic during the years leading up to 1925. Susan Besse author of the article The Crimes of Passion: The Campaign against Wife Killing in Brazil, 1910-1940 explains that crimes of passion were excusable by law because emotion ( passion) rendered the defendant incapable of rational thought and secondly killing those involved in the adulterous act was the only way to avoid humilation and disgrace. Besse uses the words of Afrano Peixoto to show that these types of crimes were beginning to come into question as a new ”modern love based on self-control and reason must ‘check passions’ “. 

As Chasteen writes, Brazil was trying desperatly to match European culture and  these acts of barbarism or “crimes of passion” were not conducive to the appearance of a modern society. As in the film at the start of the movie where a man shoots and kills his wife and her lover, is immediately surrounded by his male conservative friends who accept and support his decision to kill, but we later are told the man is sentenced to jail for the crime. Nacib’s hesitation to kill Gabriela shows that he either did not feel it was his right to kill her or that he may not do so without consequence. This is evidence of the change in mindset of a society beginning to doubt the rights of men to kill women under the alibi of passionate rage.  

Nacib’s alternative to redeeming his reputation is to annul his marriage to Gabriella (which was possible due to her having forged papers). Nacib’s reputation is left intact by legal avenues without the shedding of anyone’s blood. The movie parallels this message of ‘peace in Progress’ as the new harbor is opened and two opposing political parties decide to dismiss their opposing views in the name of Progress as both are united by potential for capital gains.

In the end of the film, Gabriela returns to Nacib as his mistress. This relationship was safer than marriage for the both of them. Nacib would not have to display her as a symbol of moral purity in the strict role of wife and Gabriela could be obsure in the lumped category of a social deviant aka the  ”modern woman”.