The Divine Order (Die göttliche Ordnung)
(Switzerland, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Petra Volpe
Starring: Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek, Rachel Braunschweig, Sibylle Brunner, Marta Zoffoli
The women of The Divine Order sure know how to get the votes. This charming Swiss comedy from writer/director Petra Volpe is a fun addition to the canon of films about the women’s movement. Coming out and hitting the campaign trail as Switzerland’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar bid in an industry championing similar urgency for more women in key creative roles, Volpe’s timely comedy offers an open and engaging discussion about equality, opportunity, and respect.
The unrest among the women begins with Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a dutiful wife and mother who becomes frustrated with the confinements and routines of her life. She tends the household, which consists of not only her family lead by her husband Hans (Maximilian Simonischek), but also her father-in-law, brother-in-law and his wife and daughter. It’s a big and busy home. Nora does little besides cooking and cleaning.
Nora dreams of the world outside the family home and longs to travel, as noted by her bedtime storytelling with her two sons. Instead of cracking open books, she spins a globe and creates tales about exotic destinations. These escapist dreams inspire her to apply for a job at a local travel agency, but there’s just one catch: Swiss law requires the husband’s permission in order for a woman to take a job. Hans, naturally, forbids it.
Led by Leuenberger’s spirited and easygoing performance, the women of the town cautiously become allies with Nora as she leads awareness campaigns about the upcoming referendum on women’s right to vote. Her allies include the hearty old Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), who lost her beloved pub when her husband died and left her without any claim to the establishment to which she devoted her life. Nora’s sister-in-law Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig) joins the call after sitting passively by her husband’s side while he sent their rebellious daughter away for dating an older man. The trio finds an ally in the town’s saucy new pizza maker Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), who offers an object of curiosity for the women having kicked her husband to the curb without any reservations for life as a single woman.
The women surge with the spirit of new wave feminism and Graziella inspires Nora to begin expanding her horizon with simple pleasures like haircuts and form fitting close that highlight her femininity, rather than hide it. Through campaigns, rallies, and late night meetings in the pub, the women of the town collective gather the agency that's been dormant for years. They find ample resistance from the men in who detest pesky women’s lib types and attribute the perceived inferiority of women to God’s given word. Volpe does a respectable job of creating fair male characters while privileging the women of the film, avoid stock types and ensuring that the conservative patriarchy is more of a collective fault than an individual one. The Divine Order casts the biggest foil for Nora in the form of another woman: the town’s resident spinster Mrs. Dr. Wipf (don’t ask where the “Mrs.” comes from), played by Therese Affolter. This frumpy antagonist plays mother hen to the women and embodies that hard internalisation of the status quo that endures in these small towns. When communities and minds are so closed and rigid, nothing changes without perspective.
A trip to Zurich brings Nora and her crew within the greater women’s movement. The faster pace of city life leads them to a hilarious info session with a Swedish hippie who educates the women about their sexuality, offering anatomy lessons and encouraging them to become better acquainted with their vaginas and open themselves through orgasm. Nora’s like a bashful schoolgirl having never seen herself or “been there,” which adds a stiff challenge for her Hans, who already finds Nora’s political life emasculating.
The Divine Order might tickle the funny bone with its tale of Swiss homemakers going on strike in order to rally support for women’s right to vote, but the film finds an unexpected depth in the hipness of its setting. It’s 1971 when the drama begins in this small and snowy anonymous Swiss town, and one can’t help but do a double take at seeing such archaic arguments in such a relatively contemporary setting. The traditional Swiss town and the beautiful landscape highlight the small community as one of isolation and conservatism. The members of the town have been neutral for far too long
The Divine Order doesn’t rewrite the book on films about the women’s movement, but it’s a fun and utterly winning crowd pleaser. Driven by a fantastic ensemble cast, particularly Leuenberger’s compelling lead and the strong supporting sidekicks of Brunner, Braunschweig, and Zoffoli, The Divine Order privileges the lives and experiences of women with a buoyant and unabashedly celebratory air.
The Divine Order is playing in Toronto at Cineplex Yonge and Dundas.