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María Luisa Bemberg

María Luisa Bemberg
María Luisa Bemberg
Born(1922-04-14)14 April 1922
Died7 May 1995(1995-05-07) (aged 73)
Occupation(s)Film director
Years active1959 - 1995

María Luisa Bemberg (April 14, 1922 – May 7, 1995) was an Argentine film writer, director and actress. She was one of the first Argentine female directors with a powerful presence both in the filmmaking and the intellectual world of Latin America, particularly during her most active period, from 1970 to 1990.

In her work, she specialized in portraying famous Argentine women and the Argentine upper class. Bemberg also focused on feminism, with regards to the gender debate and cinematic gaze. Her vast legacy extends to the 21st Century, with Bemberg being hailed as arguably Argentina’s foremost female director.


Early years

The daughter of Otto Eduardo Bemberg and Sofía Bengolea, she was born into one of the most powerful and wealthy families of Argentina. Her great-grandfather, German Argentine immigrant Otto Bemberg founded the largest brewery Quilmes Brewery in 1888. Bemberg grew up in a wealthy family. Bemberg never received a high school diploma or a college degree. She was privately tutored by a governess.[1]

On October 17, 1945, she married Carlos Miguens, an architect. Following their marriage and in the midst of the Juan Perón era, the couple moved to Spain, where they had four children before returning to Argentina. One of them, Carlos Miguens Bemberg, would become a well-known businessman. 10 years later she divorced Miguens. Her partner in subsequent years was film producer Oscar Kramer.[citation needed]

Artistic career

In 1949, Bemberg became involved with the previously named Smart Theater and later renamed the Astral Theater. In 1959, she established and managed Buenos Aires's Teatro Del Globo with her associate, Catalina Wolff. She was one of the founders of the Mar del Plata Film Festival and the Feminist Union in Argentina. Her original efforts to form feminist groups were muffled by the military regime that superseded Perón in the mid-1950s. Bemberg was inspired by French novelist and art theorist André Malraux, who visited her aunt's Villa Ocampo in 1959, and particularly his belief that "one must live what one believes".[2]

In 1970, she wrote the script for Raúl de la Torre's Crónica de una señora, a successful film about the Argentine upper class with Graciela Borges and Lautaro Murúa, and in 1975 the script for Fernando Ayala's Triangle of Four. After her film Señora de nadie was censored by the military regime, she went to New York to study acting from Lee Strasberg. Bemberg used that time to understand how to approach a film from an actor's perspective.[citation needed]

In 1971, Bemberg teamed up with another feminist to create the UFA (Union Feminista Argentina). Though the UFA disbanded after two years due to government enforced curfews, the impact made by the meetings was important because it was a way for young women to explore feminist thought in a time where divorce was difficult, abortion was illegal, and women's shelters were non existent.[3]

Bemberg decided to pursue directing because she was disappointed with how her semi-autobiographical screenplays were interpreted by male directors. Bemberg states "I realized the story belongs to the director rather than the screenwriter, so I decided to direct."[4] She believed that Argentine men suffered from great insecurity and Latin American films portrayed women poorly, and wanted to change what she felt was an uninteresting image of women in Latin American cinema. She founded her own production company, GEA, with Lita Stantic and directed her first film, Momentos, which was self-financed, in 1981.[5]

Among her films, she wrote and directed Señora de nadie in 1982, Camila in 1984 (about the persecution and execution of a priest and his lover ordered by Argentine military officer and politician Juan Manuel de Rosas and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), Miss Mary in 1986 (featuring British actress Julie Christie), and Yo, la peor de todas in 1990 (about the life of Juana Inés de la Cruz, with French actress Dominique Sanda, Argentine actor Héctor Alterio and Spanish actress Assumpta Serna).[citation needed] Bemberg's films were widely popular due to their melodramatic elements (such as Camila), and enjoyed much commercial success. Throughout her career Bemberg worked with longtime producer Lita Stantic, costume designer Graciela Galan and Voytec, a London-based stage design firm.[citation needed]


Camila was the third film that Bemberg directed as well as her first film to gain international recognition. In 1984 Camila was the biggest box-office hit in Argentina's history.[6] Her longtime producer Lita Stantic brought her a copy of a novel by Enrique Molina based on the life of Argentine socialite Camila O'Gorman. Stantic wanted Bemberg to prove that she could tell a love story. Bemberg was interested in showing Camila as the active pursuer in her relationship and spurning the pillars of family, church and state, freed from what she thought was a role that historians had confined her to. Bemberg was only able to make the film after President Raúl Alfonsín outlawed film censorship in 1983, making it a political statement as much as it is a romantic fiction. Despite the romantic plot led by the Camila and Ladislao Gutierrez, the Jesuit priest, the film is distinct for its unromantic end in the midst of the dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas.[7] The film cost US$370,000 to make.

Last years and death

Her last film was 1993's De eso no se habla, starring Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni.

At the end of her life, Bemberg was working on a script, based on the story El impostor by Silvina Ocampo, a distant relative of hers, which was made into a film in 1997 directed by her longtime collaborator Alejandro Maci.

Before her death, she bequeathed her personal art collection to the National Museum of Fine Arts. She died of cancer in Buenos Aires on May 7, 1995, at age 73.[8]


Scholar Bruce Williams has stated that all of Bemberg's films show female protagonists transgressing the boundaries and limits of their societies.[9] Her feminist films depict women struggling to assume their place in patriarchal settings. With respect to the formal aspects of her films, Bemberg set her own aesthetics, such as the "woman's look", which she considered was lacking in films and especially in Latin American films.

In several interviews Bemberg said that she was inspired by New Zealand producer and director Jane Campion and in particular her movie The Piano. Eroticism, female sexuality and women were some of Campion's themes that Bemberg was most interested in. In an interview Bemberg described why Campion's films were so inspirational for her: "In most films, eroticism for the most part is portrayed from a masculine viewpoint. They speak of their sexual prowess, conquests but--excuse me, I'm going to be very crude--rarely do they mention their inadequacies, problems with erections, impotence. Of that they don't speak. On the other hand, it's my impression that if a woman doesn't reach marriage as a virgin, well... But now it seems to me women are beginning to speak out beyond just talking to one another. It's very refreshing: observing events from a different angle."[10]

Film scholars have noted that Bemberg's entire body of work contains autobiographical elements.

Not all of Bemberg's films were focused on historical events and when they did, Bemberg explains in an interview, she intended to "situate the viewer in the period. What interests me is the human beings, not the meticulous and obsessive reconstruction of facsimiles of their surroundings."[11]

In the book, Notable Twentieth-century Latin American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Bemberg explains the development of her character, Sor Juana in the film I, the Worst of All (Yo, la peor de todas). Bemberg based Yo, la peor de todas on the Mexican writer Octavio Paz’s work, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, o las trampas de la fe. In this book, it is said Sor Juana’s character also reflected parts of Bemberg’s personal life, “Both women (Bemberg and the character, Sor Juana) were self-taught, transgressive, and devoted to their work. Sor Juana was one of the most illustrious voices of the Spanish Baroque; Bemberg was the first Argentine woman who developed a movie career from her personal point of view.” [12]


Year Film Credited as
Director Writer Actor
1997 El impostor (The Impostor) No Yes No
1994 La balada de Donna Helena No No Yes
1993 De eso no se habla (I Don't Want to Talk About It) Yes Yes No
1990 Yo, la peor de todas (I, the Worst of All) Yes Yes No
1986 Miss Mary Yes Yes No
1984 Camila Yes Yes No
1982 Señora de nadie (Nobody's Wife) Yes Yes No
1981 Momentos Yes Yes No
1975 Triángulo de cuatro (Triangle of Four) No Yes No
1971 Crónica de una señora (Chronicle of a Lady) No Yes No


Two of her films were featured at the Venice Film Festival.

Camila was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Señora de nadie was featured at the Taormina and Panama Film Festival.

Miss Mary received honorary mentions at the Tokyo and Venice Film Festivals.

She received Konex Awards in 1984 and 1991 and the Honour Konex in 2001, and multiple awards in international film festivals.

She also participated as a jury at the festivals of Cartagena, Berlin,[13] Chicago and Venice.


  1. ^ "Maria Luisa Bemberg". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 31. April. 2012
  2. ^ Bach, Caleb. "Maria Luisa Bemberg Tells the Untold." Américas. 46.2 (1994): pp. 20-27. Print.
  3. ^ A woman's gaze : Latin American women artists. Marjorie Agosín. Fredonia, N.Y.: White Pine Press. 1998. ISBN 1-877727-85-7. OCLC 38132659.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ A woman's gaze : Latin American women artists. Marjorie Agosín. Fredonia, N.Y.: White Pine Press. 1998. ISBN 1-877727-85-7. OCLC 38132659.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. ^ Beyond the bottom line : the producer in film and television studies. Andrew Spicer, A. T. McKenna, Christopher Meir. New York. 2014. ISBN 978-1-4411-2512-5. OCLC 881429718.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ A woman's gaze : Latin American women artists. Marjorie Agosín. Fredonia, N.Y.: White Pine Press. 1998. ISBN 1-877727-85-7. OCLC 38132659.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ "Movie Review-SCREEN: 'CAMILA,' STORY OF LOVE IN ARGENTINA -". Retrieved 2016-09-30.
  8. ^ Andrew Graham-Yooll (23 May 1995). "OBITUARY: Maria Luisa Bemberg". The Independent.
  9. ^ Williams, Bruce. "In the Realm of the Feminine: María Luisa Bemberg's "Camila" at the Edge of the Gaze." Chasqui. 25.1 (1996): 62-70. Print.
  10. ^ Bach, Caleb. "Maria Luisa Bemberg Tells the Untold."Américas. 46.2 (1994): 20-27. Print.
  11. ^ Pick, Zuzana M. "An Interview with Maria Luisa Bemberg." Journal of Film and Video. 44.3 (1992): 76-82. Print.
  12. ^ Tompkins, Cynthia; Foster, David (2001). Notable twentieth-century Latin American women : a biographical dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313311129.
  13. ^ "Berlinale: 1994 Juries". Retrieved 2011-06-09.

Further reading

  • John King, An Argentine passion: Maria Luisa Bemberg and her films, 2000, ISBN 1-85984-308-5, ISBN 978-1-85984-308-6
  • Bach, Caleb. "Maria Luisa Bemberg Tells the Untold." Américas. 46.2 (1994): 20-27. Print.
  • Tompkins, Cynthia Notable Twentieth-Century Latin American Women: A Biographical Dictionary [1]
  1. ^ Tompkins, Cynthia; Foster, David (2001). Notable twentieth-century Latin American women : a biographical dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313311129.
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