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Movie Review : 'Camila': Argentina's Star-crossed Lovers

April 25, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

Maria Luisa Bemberg's "Camila" (at the Beverly Center Cineplex) takes its title from the name of a young Buenos Aires aristocrat. This Camila eloped with a priest in 1847, thus bringing down the wrath of the combined forces of the Gen. Rosas dictatorship, the church and a patriarchal society, epitomized by Camila's own severe father.

A nominee for best foreign film in this year's Academy Awards, "Camila" is a very heady business, very "Elvira Madigan," gauzily gorgeous with period frills and furbelows and charged with unbridled romanticism. It is a beautifully articulated work, clearly exactly as Bemberg (a 62-year-old grandmother of 9 whose third feature this is) wanted it, right down to the last authentic detail.

But to enjoy it you must be in the mood for a swoony display of reckless, heedlessly all-consuming passion, even though its consequences have very serious political implications and are meant to apply to the repressive and oppressive conditions from which Argentina has once again emerged only recently. (Indeed, previous film makers have been thwarted in their attempts to film Camila's story, and present-day members of her family tried to stop Bemberg from making her film.)

Red is the favorite color of Juan Manuel de Rosas, which is appropriate considering not only his name but also the bloody nature of his regime. (Indeed, blood red is scarcely ever absent from cinematographer Fernando Arribas' otherwise muted images.) No one dares appear without wearing a red banner in Rosas' honor--except the darkly handsome Father Ladislao Gutierrez (Imanol Arias), freshly arrived from another province and seemingly ignorant of the obligatory custom. He immediately attracts the young, aristocratic Camila O'Gorman (Susu Pecoraro), the headstrong daughter of one of Rosas' staunchest, most prominent supporters (Hector Alterio). An omnivorous reader of banned books, Camila finds herself increasingly at odds with her father and all he represents. When at the dinner table Rosas is praised for restoring law and order after the turbulent '20s and for defeating foreign invaders, Camila dares to ask, "At what cost?"

The key reason you really have to be up for this kind of film is that the young lovers are so very self-absorbed, as lovers admittedly tend to be. The dominating Camila actually has little trouble in getting the rather meek Ladislao to violate his vows, and their mutual passion is so intense as to blind them to all else, even finally to their own safety. They are, in short, incredibly naive, and their lack of awareness, especially self-awareness, undercuts our ability to sympathize with them fully. The times may be singularly evil, but these lovers are also singularly foolish. Even so, they scarcely deserve the incredibly harsh fate that awaits them.

Bemberg displays a graceful, commanding style, and she's adroit with her actors. Especially touching is Mona Maris, exotic Buenos Aires-born Hollywood leading lady of the '30s, who plays Camila's elegant grandmother, driven mad by permanent confinement in the tower of the family's country for some ancient indiscretion. "Camila" is Times-rated mature for some sex and nudity and adult themes.

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