Bemberg, María Luisa (1922–1995)

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Bemberg, María Luisa (1922–1995)

Argentine filmmaker María Luisa Bemberg is an exception to many norms: She was a member of the Argentine oligarchy, by definition a minority group; she was one of the few successful women directors in Latin America; she made her first feature when she was a grandmother in her late fifties; and finally, of the handful of films she made, most enjoyed some degree of success either nationally or internationally. The extensive bibliography on Bemberg and her work is testament to her significance in Latin American cinema, and particularly cinema by women.

Up to a point Bemberg followed the rules for a woman of her social group. Born 14 April 1922, she married early within her class, and went on to have four children. Contrary to the rules, however, she divorced some ten years later. During the time her children were growing up, she dabbled in feminist activities, but did not get into film until the 1970s, when two of her screenplays were adapted by well-known male directors. It was the combination of her dissatisfaction with how her stories were adapted and her privileged economic status that led her to directing her own films. Her directorial debut came in 1981 with Momentos, made when she was 59 years old.

Bemberg's films clearly reveal her feminist orientation in that they focus on female characters, most often of the upper class, and always trapped by social conventions. Some of them are more contemporary in setting, whereas others are historical pieces. One of her most successful films, Camila, for example, is based on the true story of the ill-fated romance of a young upper-class woman, Camila O'Gorman, and a local priest in nineteenth century Argentina. While thematically her films are feminist in their approach, formally they follow a classic narrative structure and in some instances may be classified as melodramas—categorizations that seem to undermine the challenges of her feminist politics. At the same time, many critics have noted how in her work she repeatedly subverts the "male gaze" of classic narrative cinema by granting the power of looking to the female characters.

Films directed by Bemberg include Momentos (1981); Señora de nadie (1982); Camila (1984; Academy Award nomination, Best Foreign Language Film); Miss Mary (1986; Best Film, Best Actress, Best Set Design, Havana Film Festival, 1986); Yo, la peor de todas (1990; Organisation Catholique Internationale du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel [OCIC] Award, and Honorable Mention, Venice Film Festival, 1990); and De eso no se habla (1993; Best Screenplay [with Jorge Goldenberg] and Special Jury Prize, Havana Film Festival, 1993). Bemberg died in Buenos Aires on 7 May 1995.

See alsoCinema: From the Silent Film to 1990xml .


Carbonetti, Maria de los Angeles, Rita de Grandis, Monica Escudero, and Omar Rodriguez. "Representation of Women in the Films of Maria Luisa Bemberg" in Women Filmmakers: Refocusing, ed. Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis, and Valerie Raoul. Vancouver: University of British Colombia Press, 2003.

De Grandis, Rita, ed. María Luisa Bemberg: Entre lo político y lo personal. Special Issue, Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 27, no. 1 (Otoño 2002).

King, John, Sheila Whitaker, and Rosa Bosch, eds. An Argentine Passion: María Luisa Bemberg and Her Films. London and New York: Verso, 2000.

Salas, Hugo. "Some Girls Are Bigger than Others: María Luisa Bemberg." Senses of Cinema 22 (September-October 2002). Available from

Stone, Cynthia L. "Beyond the Female Gaze: María Luisa Bemberg's Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz." Ciber Letras 13 (July 2005). Available from

Vásquez, Lourdes. De identidades: María Luisa Bemberg, filmografía y bibliografía. SALALM Latin American Information series, No. 6. Available from

                                     Caryn C. Connelly