María Luisa Bemberg

(14/04/1922 - 07/05/1995)
María Luisa Bemberg was born in the City of Buenos Aires on 14 April 1922 into a traditional family closely related to the industrial and business sectors as well as the arts. However, and according to what was at that time a customary practice for young women, she did not receive a formal education. This lack of formal education was compensated by a relentless intellectual thirst for curiosity which allowed her to acquire an extensive intellectual knowledge.

At 22 years old, she married Carlos Miguens, an architect, and had four children. During those years, she was progressively feeling that being just “Mrs. …” left a great empty feeling inside her. In spite of loving her children dearly, she believed they were not enough for achieving her self-realization; as she once stated “only after having four children you know it's not enough”.

Since childhood, she had shown an intense attraction for the theatre, which became a reality in 1949 when she got involved with the former Smart theatre. Later on, the Astral theatre followed –where she obtained very good reviews- until she founded Teatro del Globo, together with Catalina Wolf. During the years when she was a stage director, she acquired a very valuable experience related to the marking of actors as well as to all the other elements of a theatrical event.

By the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s, she continues to be, as usual, restless and versatile. Grandchildren gradually arrived along with her first ventures into films. She recaptures the same old pleasure for narrating stories and so she writes the script of Crónica de una Señora (Chronicle of a Woman), a film directed by Raúl de la Torre in 1971. Then, in 1975, Fernando Ayala would be the director of her second book Triángulo de cuatro (A Triangle of Four Sides).

Meanwhile she had already become a strong activist in favour of women’s rights. In key with her own pursuits, she clears the way for social debate when she co-founds the Unión Feminista Argentina, the legendary UFA (Argentina Feminist Union) (NdT: the acronym UFA means in Spanish “I’ve had enough”) and takes part in different campaigns in order to create a social consciousness over female position within society and the traditional roles which restrict a woman as a person.

In support of these ideas she makes two short films: El mundo de la mujer (Woman’s World) (1972) and Juguetes (Toys) (1978). Never had been so much done in such a brief period of time. Very soon both these precursory short films became two icons whose validity, even nowadays, is amazing.

In 1981 she breaks again the circle of restrictions, becoming once more a forerunner figure. Not satisfied with the perspective set by the directors on her books, she decides to direct her own scripts. After attending the Actor’s Studio where she was a Lee Strasberg student, she dares to direct her opera prima. The result is known as Momentos (Moments) (1981) which, together with the two previous films entrusted to other directors, shows the life of middle and high-class women whose existence they “did not choose, they inherited”, as one of the leading female characters states. The thematic central point is that these are only apparently harmonious lives. An event, a feeling, an infidelity, pushes these women towards transgression and the reconsideration of their raison d’être in this world.

In her following films, María Luisa universalizes her heroines’ desire for independence, forcing them to come face to face with the established powers: Family, State, and Church. In Señora de nadie (Nobody’s wife) (1982); in the tragic love story of Camila O’Gorman and the Catholic priest Ladislao Gutiérrez, under Juan Manuel de Rosas government (Camila, 1984); or in the historical insensitivity of the landed gentry of the 1930s and 1940s (Miss Mary, 1986), the most important leading issue is an untamed criticism towards the patriarchal society.

As regards formal aspects, Bemberg was setting her own aesthetics, the “woman’s look” with which she had dreamed of. Reviews acknowledge her merits: Momentos obtained an award at Cartagena and Chicago film festivals; Señora de nadie at Taormina and Panama film festivals; Camila was nominated for an Oscar of the Academy; Miss Mary received honorary mentions at the Tokio and Venice film festivals. At the Venice festival as well as at Chicago, Berlin and Cartagena film festivals she took part as a member of the jury.

Without any doubt every María Luisa’s film includes autobiographical characteristics. However, it is in Yo, la peor de todas (I, the worst of all) (1990) where the concept of individuality manifests more clearly. The life of Sor Juana who according to Bemberg “was the first feminist of the American continent” fascinated her. She was rebellious, at times furious, with an enormous urge for knowledge and a deep sense of independence, and these are qualities with which one can define not only this nun but also María Luisa. Bemberg chose to tell the story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, which was inspired by an essay written by Octavio Paz, through the display of jealousies and envies unleashed by a free spirit as well as the struggles between the established powers. She made this film with a deprived, aesthetic, almost figurative style, taking a distance from the issue which brought depth, richness and relevance to this portrait. This film obtained awards in Chicago, Cartagena, Venice and Havana.

The last film made by María Luisa was De eso no se habla (We don’t want to talk about it) (1994). Even though it carries the Bemberg signature, there is an evident change of tone in this story about the love between a foreigner and a dwarf woman. Here, she abandons the literal account and chooses the metaphor, the oneirism, the satire, within a customary representation masterly recreated.

She always was a tireless worker. Already sick, she found the energy to give shape to her last script, El impostor (The Impostor), whose making she was not able to witness.

Two months before her death, which occurred on 7 May 1995, María Luisa Bemberg carried through a most generous act: she bequeathed her personal art collection to the National Museum of Beaux Arts – a donation fulfilled through her sons and daughters. The collection of twenty-seven artworks of Argentine and Uruguayan masters, selected with love and wisdom along the years, displays the same sensitivity, refinement, the same excellence that she always reflected all along her cinematographic career.

Leonor Calvera.