The Divine Order is a crowd-pleasing light drama from Switzerland. A bit like Pride and Made in Dagenham, it explores how a social movement can bring about change and alter entrenched attitudes. In 1971, women in Switzerland were still denied the right to vote – one of the last countries in the industrialised world to do so. Switzerland was still an ultra-conservative country, with old fashioned misogyny and traditional patriarchal rules governing society. Women couldn’t get a part time job without the approval of their husbands. A referendum proposal to allow women the right to vote was being discussed. In the bigger cities like Zurich, marches and protests sprang up.
However, in the (fictitious) Alpine village where Nora (Marie Leuenberger) lives, any such agitation towards social change is met with brusque disapproval. Nora is a mousy housewife who looks after her two sons, and husband Hans (Maximilian Simonischek). She must also cope with her cantankerous father-in-law who is set in his ways and has nothing nice to say about his family. Hans works in the local timber mill and has just recently received a small promotion. He is basically pressured by the town elders to conform to the expectations of the village. Nora wants to return to work with a part-time job in a travel agency. But Hans forbids it, which he can do so according to the law.
Nora reluctantly gets involved in the burgeoning local women’s movement. With the help of a few like-minded women, she slowly finds a sense of empowerment and brings about a change in attitude. Hans privately says that he supports the idea of women having the right to vote. When it comes to publicly voicing his support however, he backs away. This creates further tension within the household, and Nora and Hans find their marriage at a crossroads. The women go on strike to make their point about oppression and subjugation. The menfolk to then have to carry out all the usual domestic chores.
Leuenberger (Amnesia) brings a mix of quite strength and passion to her performance. Simonischek provides nuance to his performance that makes his Hans a more ambiguous character rather than an outright prig and misogynist. Sibylle Briner is good and brings a wicked sense of humour to her role as the sassy, elderly widow Vroni.
The Divine Order is based on real events in 1970s Switzerland, and its themes are still quite relevant even today. An opening montage sequence shows the powerful social movements of the 60s in the US, and which inspired similar activism in other countries. Veteran cinematographer Judith Kaufman (Sanctuary) eschews the usual gorgeous visuals of the alpine setting, giving the film a rather visually bland look.
Swiss filmmaker Petra Biodine Volpe writes and directs. She previously wrote Heidi, internationally the most successful Swiss film of all time at the box office. The Divine Order is an earnest film, but modest in its ambition. It’s also a busy film; with several subplots suggesting the attitudes of the time. One sub-plot explores the plight of Nora’s sister-in-law Therese (Rachel Braunschweig) and her drunken husband Werner (Nicholas Ofczarek) who are struggling with the family farm.
The Divine Order is a film of modest ambition and lacks any grand sense of drama. However it has plenty of humour, which broadens its appeal.
Director: Petra Biodine Volpe
Cast: Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek, Rachel Braunschweig
Release Date: 22 March 2018
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television