1.4.18

A Film a Week - The Divine Order / Die göttliche Ordung



Did you know that Switzerland, known for its political and military neutrality, long-standing peace, social well-being, cheeses, products of precise mechanics and banks, was one of the last countries to introduce women’s right to vote? On the confederal level, it happened in 1971, that means after the whole sexual revolution thing, and it took another 20 years for the last canton to incorporate it into its constitution. The reason for that can be a combination of factors including less stressful life than in the rest of Europe in the first half of the 20th century and a strong influence of tradition and Christian religion (Catholic and Calvinist, no real difference) keeping “the divine order” in which a women is subdued to her man and both of them to God.

The Divine Order, written for the screen and directed by Petra Volpe (of Dreamland fame), is a fictionous account on women’s fight for the voting right set in the microcosm of a small mountain town. During its course we shall see the transformation of its heroine from a submissive anti-feminist housewife to a jeans-wearing revolutionary, her gradual acceptance of her own sexual needs, the transformation of other women from silent and obedient wives to a community capable of reaching its political goals and also the transformation of town’s men from boorish chauvinists to civilized, understanding husbands.

The trajectory of the story is somewhat predictable, but there are some surprises, insightful and comedic moments along the way. The writing is precise, the directing is more than competent, there is a plenty of visual polish with all the early 70’s look, the editing is spot-on, and the format of 96 minutes is very audience-friendly. On the other hand, subtlety is not the name of the game here.

We meet our heroine through the voice-over narration about all the nice and exciting things as Woodstock, sexual revolution and human rights movement far away over the seas and all of that bypassing Switzerland, especially its rural regions. Her name is Nora and she is played with grace by German actress Marie Leuenberger. The choice of the name is not accidental – her start is not dissimilar to the title heroine of Henrik Ibsen’s play. Our Nora is married to Hans (Maximilian Simonischek, son of Peter), a boyishly good-looking soon to be entry-level manager in the local factory, takes care of their two sons and her father-in-law and she seems content doing so. But when she sees the injustice her brother-in-law does to his wife Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig) and especially daughter Hanna (Ella Rumpf, known for her part in Raw), she gets interested in the whole referendum thing. With the help of a former innkeeper Vroni (Sibyle Brunner) and an Italian divorcee Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), she is ready to fight for her rights.

Volpe usually succeeds in blending the serious activist drama with a small-town comedic undertones. That is not so strange since the whole premise is a bit absurd: the future of women’s voting rights will be decided by men only and maybe not the meanest, but the most eloquent antagonist of the film is actually a woman working on a high position for whom the social status is more important than basic human right. The films hits its emotional peaks through the interaction between the large women during the Lysistrata-like strike subplot, and the cerebral ones in the moments of satisfaction that grown men can also learn that the times are changing and that doing housework will not kill them or make them gay.

However, linking the whole thing with the echoes of sexual liberation falls flat down somewhere around the midpoint – aiming for easy laughs about middle-to-old-aged women learning a thing or two about there vaginas, orgasms and sex in general during a visit to a protest in Zurich, it gets more than a bit unpleasant in the scene with a Swedish new-age therapist of sorts. There is no doubt that political and sexual revelation are connected in more than one way, but here it simply does not work neither as a statement nor as a running joke comic relief. Still, as a political and social drama with some nice absurdist touches, The Divine Order is quite alright.