The Divine Order Review
Petra Biondina Volpe's The Divine Order (Die göttliche Ordnung) is a film about one woman seeking change, speaking up, and making a real difference to her life and the lives of all the women in the Swiss village she lives in, in 1971. When we are first introduced to Nora (Marie Leuenberger) she is living an unremarkable life as a mother and housewife, her only moment of true freedom is when she rides her bike to visit her sister with the wind in her hair and a smile beaming across her face. This is a woman who has slowly been suppressed by the restraints of the village’s patriarchal hold - not to mention the father-in-law she's expected to wait on hand and foot - and decides to make a change. Nora loves her husband, Hans (Maximilian Simonischek) but when she mentions the secretarial job vacancy she'd like to apply for, even she is surprised by how dictatorial his answer is.
Nora isn’t the only woman in the village who is suffering under the control of the men. Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig), is stuck living under the thumb of her husband (and Hans' brother) Werner (Nicholas Ofczarek). He is often violent and abusive towards his wife because their farm is failing to thrive, and then there's daughter Hanna (Ella Rumpf of Raw). She's the only one who actually looks like a young woman of the seventies and is in love. When she runs away the first time, she's enrolled in a reform school but is desperate to see her boyfriend. Nora agrees to chaperone her to Bern so Hanna can, essentially, break up with him. Little does she know that Hanna has no intention of returning home. While there, Nora comes across women campaigning for the women's vote and is given leaflets, some feminist literature, including a German translation of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.
Hans is away for compulsory military training, and so Nora takes the chance to become knowledgeable about women’s liberation. Hanna is finally located and dragged back, only this time she is sent to prison. Theresa has no say in the matter, as only her husband can decide the fate of their daughter, something which is so shocking and infuriating to watch, and which spurs on Nora and her quest to secure the right to vote. She starts off by challenging the town’s resident anti-feminist who is trying to assure women that they do not need to vote and ensuring the men of the village vote against it.
Nora’s little act of rebellion attracts the notice of an older woman, Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), who says that she was the only woman in town to support suffrage last time it was on the ballot in Switzerland, in 1959. The two women join forces with Italian immigrant, Graziella (Marta Zoffoil), and begins a wonderful friendship between these extraordinary women, whose numbers grow as they all campaign to change the mindset of the men who are due to vote on the issue on February 7th 1971.
Marie Leuenberger is wonderful and delivers a great performance as the quiet and voracious Nora, she is able to say so much with just her facial expressions. She is a fleshed out and well-developed character who simply wants to live equally to her husband. However, it is Sibylle Brunner who steals the show, for me, as sassy and sarcastic Vroni she has some of the best lines of dialogue throughout the film. Every single member of the supporting cast are also strong and deliver faultless performances, including a wonderful cameo from The Bridge's Sofia Helin as Eden, the bohemian who introduces our campaigners to their animus.
Volpe's direction is solid, although this is only her second feature she is already proving herself to be a fully competent director to keep an eye on. She is also responsible for writing the script, which is full of hilarious dialogue and heartfelt interactions between the fully-realised female characters. Judith Kaufman's cinematography is worth a mention too. Although there are some very serious moments in the film and scenes that will leave you sobbing, it’s a clever balance between comedy and drama. Wondrously, the majority of the film's crew are women which just adds to the delight of The Divine Order, a film which remembers those women who stood up, demanded change and to be heard in a time that is far too recent in terms of history. It's an important film, and a feel-good treat for those who believe in sisterhood and equality.