The Divine Order (“Die göttliche Ordnung“) (Petra Volpe, 2017) 3½ out of 4 stars.
I learned two things from watching The Divine Order, the delightful new feminist dramedy from Swiss director Petra Biondina Volpe (Dreamland): 1) that women in Switzerland did not gain the right vote until 1971 (with some holdout provinces only granting universal suffrage much later); and 2) that two of my favorite films of the year are both female-directed stories about female emancipation (the other is Their Finest). Is this a trend of the times, in counterpoint to some of the horrible revelations of our era about past sexual harassment? Here’s hoping! But really, 1971? How is that even possible?
The movie begins with an acknowledgement of the absurdity of that very fact. We start with a brief montage of the late 1960s/early 1970s in America, complete with hippies, Jimi Hendrix and Gloria Steinem, then cut to … a village in the mountains of Switzerland. Our narrator on this quick journey from then present-day progressive politics to the regressive reality of her homeland is Nora, a loving, hardworking housewife and mother of two boys. Hans, her husband, has just been promoted to foreman at a local factory, but when Nora asks if she can take a job outside the home for even more income, the answer is no. Which, legally, means the end of the story, as husbands can, indeed, ban wives from, well, whatever. Sorry, Nora.
But something clicks inside her, this time. She and Hans share their residence with other members of Hans’ family, and when Hanna, Nora’s niece, is thrown in jail by her parents for attempting to leave with her hippie boyfriend, Nora decides to read the brochures that local suffragettes are passing around. It seems that Switzerland is about to weigh a national referendum to allow women the vote. Suddenly, for the first time, Nora wants more than she has, and before she knows it, she is leading the women of her village on a strike to persuade their husbands to vote yes on the referendum. Inspiring and amusing, both, and populated with engaging and complex characters, The Divine Order is a must-see movie for our time. Sure, American women can vote in 2017, but are they respected?
The cast is top-notch, and since this is not a Hollywood production, they all look like real people, sans excessive make-up or glamour lighting. As Nora, Marie Leuenberger (Amnesia) blossoms from wallflower to ruler of the rebellion in a manner wholly believable, strong but shy; Maximilian Simonischek (The Foster Boy), as Hans, deftly navigates the treacherous water of his character’s alternating brutish and tender behavior; and as Vroni, the elder mascot of the bunch, Sibylle Brunner (Now or Never) brings wry humor and pathos to every scene. Everyone is good, however, and the ensemble, together with Volpe’s fine script and expert direction, make this vital tale soar. Yes, it’s a bit precious, at times, but always movingly entertaining. Alternating between lines like “women’s rights are human rights” and “love your vagina, and the orgasm will follow,” The Divine Order further reminds us that existential and carnal needs make fine bedfellows. Now that’s a movie!
In Swiss German with English subtitles.