Swiss women were not granted the vote until 1971. Petra Volpe’s The Divine Order revisits their fight for equality through the fictional lens of a young housewife living in a small, tranquil village.
“Nora (Marie Leuenberger) spends her days doing laundry, making beds and vacuuming around her domineering father-in-law, and her nights cooking and caring for husband Hans (Max Simonischek) and their two sons. At first, she seems agreeably submissive to this life of routine servitude. But unfamiliar stirrings of outrage over her place in society—and that of her female compatriots—soon begin to percolate, triggered by two concurrent incidents: Hans’ refusal to allow her to get a job (a privilege granted to him by law); and her free-spirited teenage niece Hanna (Ella Rumpf) being sent to prison for wanting to be with her older, long-haired boyfriend.
These twin injustices speak to the larger problem of women’s subjugation in Swiss society, the wrongheadedness of which is thrown into sharp relief by the momentous counterculture sweeping the rest of the globe. It’s not long before Nora is standing up to the close-minded leader of her social club, Mrs. Wipf (Therese Affolter)—who claims equality between the sexes is ‘a sin against nature’—and forming a makeshift suffrage organization ahead of a 1971 ballot vote on the issue. From the start, she’s joined in her campaign by elderly firebrand Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), who resents losing her restaurant because she wasn’t allowed to handle its finances, and Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), a single Italian woman whose curly hair and fashionable threads are signs of her enlightened attitude.
The Divine Order eventually sees the town’s ladies go on strike ahead of the vote, shacking up together in an act of solidarity that further underscores women’s inherent power as the glue that holds families together. Volpe dramatizes her action with a light touch that allows for flashes of pointed comedy even as she maintains a firm focus on the way threats of slander, humiliation, abuse and ostracism are used by the ruling class to maintain privilege.
No prior knowledge of Switzerland’s political evolution is necessary to guess the conclusion of The Divine Order, as its feel-good narrative telegraphs much of what’s to come. Yet thanks to its director’s sturdy guidance and Leuenberger’s fine lead performance as Nora, whose resolve is colored by doubt and trepidation, the film never feels stilted or preachy; rather, it radiates an infectious admiration for the courage shown by its heroines in the face of immense obstacles.”