Some of you will probably be surprised while watching Swiss film “The Divine Order”, which was selected as the Swiss entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in last year. As depicted from the movie, Swiss women did not have a right to vote before their suffrage was officially approved by a referendum in 1971, and the movie later informs us that it took another 20 years for them to earn their complete victory. Through its conventional but intimate fictional drama, the movie shows us how difficult it was for many women willing to fight for their democratic rights during that time, and it gives us several moving moments while delivering its timeless social message as required.
The early part of the movie depicts how much a small rural town in Switzerland has been insulated the rapid social changes during the late 20th century. To Nora (Marie Leuenberger) and many other women in the town, sexual revolution and feminism are something quite alien and distant from them, and they have been all sticking to their conservative ideas and values as supporting their men and children without much complain. With her good husband and two nice sons, Nora has been mostly fine with her life, and she naturally does not show much interest when she hears about the upcoming referendum on women’s suffrage for the first time.
However, she comes to open her eyes to women’s rights after reading a number of leaflets given to her, and she becomes more aware of the prevalent gender inequality in her small world. She wants to get a job for being more than a mere housewife, but her husband flatly rejects her suggestion, and that surely reminds her again of how unfairly she and other women in the town are treated. In case of her sister-in-law Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig), she has been stuck in her unhappy marriage for many years while always demanded to take care of the family farm instead of her disinterested husband, and she is virtually powerless when her husband decides to send their daughter to a correctional facility just because of her unruly behaviors.
When Nora voices her opinion on women’s suffrage for the first time in front of other women, no one initially seems to be particularly interested in what she wants to start, but then she gets a few supporters. Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), an old lady who has been interested in women’s suffrage as much as Nora, approaches to Nora for doing more activities for their cause, and then they are joined by Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), a spirited Italian woman who incidentally acquires a restaurant formerly owned by Vroni.
Although Nora is understandably not so sure about whether she and her two colleagues can really bring a change into their society, she becomes more confident as making more forward steps with Vroni and Graziella. At one point, they go to Zurich together for attending a demonstration for women’s suffrage along with many women, and they later have an amusing moment of female empowerment while participating in a meeting which turns out to be quite enlightening for them. When she has to make her first public speech in front of many town people, Nora becomes very nervous for good reasons, but she manages to present herself well, and this bold public action of hers comes to touch something inside many of town women.
Eventually, Nora and her colleagues decide to begin a group strike for showing their men why they cannot be ignored at all. After Nora leaves her house just like her colleagues, her husband comes to see how much he has depended on his wife, and we accordingly get a couple of humorous moments as he tries to do some housework for himself and his two sons.
Of course, there soon comes a male backlash as expected, and the situation becomes more serious for Nora and her colleagues later in the story, but the movie does not lose its lightweight spirit much even during that part. Although it often feels a bit too thin in terms of story and characters, the screenplay by director/writer Petra Volpe balances itself well between drama and humor, and it particularly did a good job of conveying to us the growing solidarity among Nora and her colleagues. As these ladies firmly stick together for their cause, they come to feel freer and happier than ever, and there is a quietly poignant moment when Theresa confides to Nora why her marriage has been so unhappy.
Under Volpe’s competent direction, the main cast members of the movie give a solid ensemble performance to enjoy. As the main center of the movie, Marie Leuenberger ably conveys to us her character’s gradual change along the story, and Rachel Braunschweig, Sibylle Brunner, Marta Zoffoli, and Bettina Stucky are also fine in their colorful supporting roles. As Nora’s confused husband, Maximilian Simonischek brings some decency and sincerity to his functional role, and he has his own small moment as his character finally comes to accept the change represented by his wife.
In conclusion, “The Divine Order” is a good film which tells us a lot about how much our human society has advanced for solving gender inequality – and how much we still need to do more for that. Although it looks rather modest in its achievement, it is both entertaining and enlightening on the whole, and you will have a fairly good time with it as reflecting more on its subjects.