h

The Divine Order recalls the fight for women’s suffrage through a lens that’s as timely as ever

★★★★

The year is 1971, and Switzerland is debating whether to allow women the right to vote.  Housewife Nora isn’t a rebel by nature, but when her husband prevents her from taking a part-time job, she becomes drawn into the campaign for women’s suffrage.
 
The Divine Order is an earnest, hopeful film, crafted in the recognition that compact dramas are often more involving than operatic ones. Marie Leuenberger plays Nora with a mixture of determination and vulnerability mostly concealed by a mask of domestic good manners. Sibylle Brunner is also a good fit as Vroni, a sassy septuagenarian feminist well past the point of caring whose toes she steps on.
 
Nora and her female friends appear always surrounded by clotheslines and cooking pots, constricted by aprons and babushkas. Nora’s husband Hans, an army reservist, appears in uniform, a rifle slung over his shoulder. Both men and women are uncomfortably confined by their roles.
 
“Empowerment” fantasies like Kill Bill or Michael Apted’s Enough set their female protagonists against misogyny in the form of grotesque male psychopaths. The advantage of this is obvious: no man in the audience is going to see the heroine punch a knuckle-dragging rapist and feel that the movie is criticising him.
 
Despite its optimistic tone, The Divine Order is more provocative than Kill Bill, because it suggests that decent men can also harm women. Hans doesn’t badger Nora to shut up about voting rights because he’s evil – he’s also pressured to conform. Hans knows his father and workmates will laugh at him if he doesn’t control his wife.
 
In a memorable scene Hans, walked out on by Nora, struggles to prepare an apple pie with the intentness of a caveman making fire. In the context of The Divine Order’s alpine village, this feels about as transgressive as cross-dressing.
 
There are other powerful moments of suggestion hidden throughout the film:  Nora’s niece is sent to a reformatory after she’s caught smoking marijuana with older boys. Vroni loses the restaurant she managed because of her husband’s incompetence. A man at Hans’s workplace is mocked for growing his hair long. It’s up to the viewer to decide just how these things fit together.
 
Although Nora’s story wraps up neatly in 96 minutes, The Divine Order suggests other, less-easily-resolved problems that may stick with the viewer longer.