Camila (film)

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Film Poster
Directed by María Luisa Bemberg
Produced by Lita Stantic
Written by María Luisa Bemberg
Beda Docampo Feijóo
Juan Bautista Stagnaro
Starring Susú Pecoraro
Imanol Arias
Héctor Alterio
Music by Luis María Sierra
Cinematography Fernando Arribas
Edited by Luis César D'Angiolillo
Release dates
  • 17 May 1984 (1984-05-17)
Running time
105 minutes
Country Argentina
Language Spanish

Camila is a 1984 Argentine drama film directed by María Luisa Bemberg, based on the story of the 19th-century Argentine socialite Camila O'Gorman. The story had previously been adapted in 1910 by Mario Gallo, in the now considered lost film Camila O'Gorman. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, marking the second time an Argentine film was nominated for this award.[1]


The film opens with the statement, "In memory of Camila O'Gorman and Ladislao Gutiérrez."

Argentina, c. 1827. Ana Perichon de O'Gorman is brought from imprisonment in a Brazilian convent to house arrest in the hacienda of her estranged son, Adolfo O'Gorman. Adolfo, who despises his mother for having had an adulterous affair decades earlier, treats her with unveiled contempt. Upon meeting her granddaughter, Camila O'Gorman, Ana asks whether she enjoys love stories. Camila responds that she doesn't know any.

In 1847, a 23-year-old Camila (Susú Pecoraro), has become a pole of Buenos Aires society. She is courted by Ignacio, a wealthy society man with whom she is not in love. When her fellow socialites advise her to not let Ignacio get away, Camila bursts into tears as she describes her longing for a husband she could feel proud of. Secretly, Camila has been raised on her grandmother's stories about her affair with former Colonial Viceroy Santiago de Liniers and their surviving love letters. Just as secretly, Camila reads French romance novels and books by political refugees like Esteban Echeverría.

Meanwhile, Adolfo has come to enthusiastically support Caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, whom he praises for restoring order after the Argentine civil wars of the 1810's and '20's. Camila, however, is horrified by the state terrorism which Rosas routinely uses against real and imagined opposition. She openly expresses these views, which always enrages her father. One day, during confession, she meets a Jesuit priest, Father Ladislao Gutiérrez (Imanol Arias). Camila immediately develops a crush on him, but after hearing Fr. Ladislao denounce Rosas' death squads from the pulpit, she falls deeply in love. Fr. Ladislao first rebukes Camila when she comes on to him and feels deeply ashamed that he returns her feelings. He attempts to do penance with a whip before sinking into a life-threatening fever.

During the funeral of her grandmother, Camila learns that Fr. Ladislao is ill and rushes to his bedside. To her shock, she finds him caressing a handkerchief which she had given him, ostensibly as a gift to the poor but really as a token of love. Upon his recovery, Fr. Ladislao finally surrenders to Camila's advances. For a time, they conduct a discreet affair, but Fr. Ladislao is visibly troubled by the hypocrisy of his public priesthood and his private violation of his vows.

Abandoning everything, Fr. Ladislao and Camila elope to Corrientes Province, where they pose as a married couple. Fr. Ladislao works as a school teacher and swiftly gains the admiration and gratitude of the village. Camila is ecstatically happy and tells Ladislao how proud she is to be his, "wife." However, Ladislao remains torn between his love for Camila and a deep longing for his abandoned priesthood. During an Easter fiesta, Ladislao is recognized by Father Miguel Gannon, a Buenos Aires priest who angrily greets him with the words, "God does not forget his chosen. Do you hear me, Father Ladislao Gutiérrez?"

With his troubled conscience brought to a crisis, Fr. Ladislao runs to the village church and screams at the Eucharist in the Tabernacle, "Why can't You leave me in peace!" Meanwhile, Father Gannon immediately notifies the village's Commandante of police.

The latter, feeling grateful to Ladislao for teaching his children to read, warns Camila that he will do nothing until morning. He urges her and Ladislao to immediately flee across the Brazilian border. Deeply grateful, Camila frantically searches for Fr. Ladislao to tell him the news. When she finds him kneeling in prayer before the altar of the church, she bursts into tears, knowing that he has made his peace with God.

The next morning, Fr. Ladislao returns to Camila to say goodbye. Although he says that he still loves her, Fr. Ladislao explains that he must return to Buenos Aires, do penance, and continue his priestly ministry. Visibly ashamed, he apologizes to Camila for what he has done to her. Saddened but unremorseful, she responds, "I knew what I was doing." To both their horror, the Commandante and his men arrive and arrest them both.

Meanwhile, Camila's father, Adolfo O'Gorman, is infuriated by how the family name has been dragged through the mud by Camila's actions. Despite the pleas of Ignacio and the rest of the family, he writes to Rosas and demands the death penalty for his daughter. With the Church Hierarchy and his political allies demanding retribution, and his exiled opponents using the scandal to mock his rule, Rosas issues a decree that both Camila and Fr. Ladislao are to be shot without trial.

In a military prison, Camila and Fr. Ladislao are forbidden to see each other. While imprisoned, Camila learns that she is carrying Fr. Ladislao's child. Heartbroken, she calls out from her cell, "Ladislao! We are going to have a baby! We are going to have a baby!" Despite the fact that the Law of Argentina forbids the execution of pregnant women, Rosas refuses to delay or commute Camila's sentence. The prison chaplain gives Camila glass of holy water to drink and thus baptizes her unborn child. Fr. Ladislao sends her a final letter affirming his love for her and saying that, because they could not be together on earth, they will be reunited in heaven before the throne of God.

On August 18, 1848, Camila and Fr. Ladislao are tied to chairs, blindfolded, and carried before a firing squad in the prison courtyard.

The soldiers gun down Fr. Ladislao without a second thought, but they initially balk at killing a woman. When the Commandante threatens to shoot them if they refuse, they open fire and riddle Camila's stomach with bullets. Their bodies are then dumped into the same coffin.

The camera lingers over the soldiers, the courtyard, and the Argentine flag, before panning to the bodies of Camila and Ladislao in the coffin. Their final words are repeated in voiceover: "Ladislao, are you there?" - "By your side, Camila".



No actor portrays Dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas and his actions are inferred only from the statements of other characters. This, and his constant presence in portraits, have caused some film critics to compare him to the ubiquitous Big Brother from George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

During their elopement, Fr. Ladislao and Camila have sexual relations inside a horse-drawn coach. This is derived from a similar scene in the novel Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert.

Historical inaccuracy[edit]

The real Camila O'Gorman, photographed shortly before her execution at Santos Lugares Prison
  • In the film, the Roman Catholic Church is depicted as unconditionally supporting Rosas' dictatorial rule. Father Ladislao Gutierrez is inaccurately depicted as the sole exception among the clergy. From his first appearance at Camila's birthday celebration, Fr. Gutierrez is rebuked by his fellow Jesuits for not wearing the Scarlet insignia of the ruling Federalist Party. One of his superiors then pins the Rosista badge on the cassock of a visibly uncomfortable Fr. Gutierrez. Later, when he denounces Rosas' police state tactics from the pulpit during Mass, the senior pastor of the parish also rebukes him. In reality, the Society of Jesus, in which both Fr. Gutierrez and Camila's brother were priests, was the only institution within Argentine Catholicism which actually had a policy of speaking out. Their vocal criticism of his rule ultimately caused Rosas to sign a decree expelling all Jesuit priests from Argentina.[2][3]
  • Camila's father, Adolfo O'Gorman, is depicted as a tyrannical and self-righteous autocrat who, in the words of one reviewer, "makes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's father look like Santa Claus."[4] Adolfo's response to Camila's elopement is to blame her for the scandal which has ruined his good name. Adolfo's hatred of his daughter and obsession with making her pay causes Camila's mother to curse the day she married him. Recent scholarship, however, has painted a very different picture of Adolfo O'Gorman. In a letter to Rosas sent immediately following his daughter's elopement, Adolfo O'Gorman placed the blame squarely on Fr. Ladislao Gutierrez. Fr. Gutierrez had, he said, seduced his daughter, "under the guise of religion." Adolfo further described himself and his family as heartbroken and pleaded that his daughter be rescued from the man he regarded as her abductor. Scholars who have read the letter believe that Adolfo genuinely loved his daughter.[5]
  • When her husband refuses to ask for clemency, Mrs. O'Gorman laments no one cares about her daughter's life. Adolfo, she says, cares only about his honor, Rosas, the Federalist Party, and the Church care only about maintaining their power, and the Unitarian opposition care only about using the scandal for political gain. "But no one," she screams, "cares about my daughter!" In reality, a large number of people begged Rosas to grant clemency, including the Leader's own daughter, Manuelita. Rosas' decision to ignore their pleas and execute a pregnant woman horrified his supporters, sent shock waves across South America, and, according to some historians, contributed to his overthrow and exile in 1852.
  • The film depicts the Prison's Commandante as feeling sympathetic to Camila while displaying only contempt for Fr. Ladislao. He is also depicted as being in personal command of their execution and threatening the firing squad with a pistol when they hesitate to shoot Camila. In his memoirs, published in 1883, Antonino Reyes, who had served Rosas for 14 years as aide-de-camp, secretary, and Commandante of Santos Lugares Prison, tells a very different story. Reyes was hardened by the many brutalities which had taken place at the prison, but he confessed that the plight of Camila and Fr. Ladislao genuinely moved him. Lacking the authority to commute the sentences, Commandante Reyes chose not to witness the execution of Camila and Fr. Ladislao. After it was over, he ordered their bodies to be placed in the same coffin, which he considered an act of compassion. Only then did the Commandante write to Rosas and inform the Caudillo that his orders had been carried out.

In popular culture[edit]

In 2001, Camila: The Musical, based on the film and with words and music written by Lori McKelvey, debuted in Philadelphia.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The 57th Academy Awards (1985) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  2. ^ Leslie Bethell (1993), Argentina Since Independence, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43376-2 Page 27.
  3. ^ John Lynch (2001), Argentine Caudillo: Juan Manuel de Rosas, Scholarly Resources, Wilmington, DE. ISBN 0-8420-2897-8 Page 85.
  4. ^ "New York Times," March 15, 1985
  5. ^ Adolfo O'Gorman's Letter to Juan Manuel de Rosas, December 21, 1847
  6. ^ "Camila," a CurtainUp Review

External links[edit]