The Divine Order

(Die Göttliche Ordnung)

Official Selection for Best Foreign Language Film from Switzerland!

The battle for women’s suffrage in the U.S. ended in 1920, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Switzerland granted its female population the right to vote. The Divine Order, by Petra Volpe, revisits this fight for equality through the fictional lens of a housewife whose mounting desire for autonomy and actualization is opposed by backward-thinking cretins of both genders. A crowd-pleaser, The Divine Order inspires and amuses in equal measure.

Poster for the Swiss feminist dramedy The Divine OrderNora (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 – begin to percolate, triggered by two incidents: Hans’ refusal to allow her to get a job (a privilege granted to him by law); and her teenage niece Hanna (Ella Rumpf) being sent to prison for wanting to be with her boyfriend.

It’s not long before Nora is standing up to the close-minded leader of her social club, who claims equality between the sexes is ‘a sin against nature’, and forming a makeshift suffrage organization ahead of a 1971 vote on the issue. 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.

The Divine Order eventually sees the town’s ladies go on strike before the vote, shacking up together in an act of solidarity. In one of the film’s funnies sequences, Nora and friends attend a session with a hippie-dippy guru who teaches them to ‘love your vagina’ by passing around mirrors and having them stare into their crotches (which, they’re informed, come in many varieties, including ‘butterfly,’ ‘bunny‘ and ‘tiger’). More than just a jokey scenario, the scene is a sharp depiction of female liberation as a process that’s not only external but also internal: one that requires the knowledge, and embrace, of one’s own unique value.

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. It’s not hard to guess the conclusion of The Divine Order, given its feel-good narrative. Yet thanks to its director’s sturdy guidance and Leuenberger’s fine lead performance as Nora, 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.

– Nick Schager, Variety

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