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Review: ‘The Divine Order’ Recalls the Fight for Women’s Sufferage in Switzerland

By: nytimes.com 7 months ago
Review: ‘The Divine Order’ Recalls the Fight for Women’s Sufferage in Switzerland

Set in 1971, Petra Volpe’s film takes a middlebrow, mildly rollicking approach toward a serious subject.

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If it s startling that the 19th Amendment, which enshrined women s voting rights across the United States, is less than 100 years old, The Divine Order  is set in Switzerland, where the equivalent constitutional amendment ” establishing the right for women to vote at the federal level ” didn t pass until 1971.

The Divine Oder  examines that fight for women s suffrage in a microcosm. Directed by Petra Volpe, the film is set in a conservative Swiss town that has gone largely insulated from the spirit of the swinging 60s. (To judge from the film s grayish look, the locality has even escaped the decade s tie-dyed palette.)

The movie centers on Nora (Marie Leuenberger), who, like most of the town s women, has been cowed into keeping her opinions to herself. The more we push, the more the men do what they want,  she tells a pamphleteer encouraging approval of the referendum. Nora s days consist of caring for her children, indulging her proudly retrograde father-in-law and yearning to take a job that would break the monotony. If Nora s name weren t enough of a nod to Ibsen, her husband, Hans (Max Simonischek), addresses her as my little bird. 

But soon Nora is moved to act. Nora s rebellious teenage niece (Ella Rumpf) is sent to reform school and then, after she runs away, to prison. Nora reads up on the inequities of Swiss marriage law. A small act of defiance against the town s leading female anti-suffrage finger-wagger (Therese Affolter) wins her an ally in a feisty widow (Sibylle Brunner), and soon an Italian restaurant owner (Marta Zoffoli) joins them. Their growing movement culminates in a strike that brings the town to a halt.

Taking a middlebrow, mildly rollicking approach to a serious subject, The Divine Order  doesn t exactly break new ground. It goes for easy laughs, like a scene in which the women attend a workshop led by a Swedish guru who teaches them a better appreciation of their anatomy. The composer, Annette Focks, supplies an array of insistent Spielbergian music cues, and the film hinges on a pair of big-speech scenes.

Still, The Divine Order  effectively illustrates how peer pressure can influence the political process. Collective silence, whether it s from women unwilling to publicly press for their rights or men afraid to voice agreement with their wives for fear of looking weak around co-workers, proves more of an obstacle than any opponent. That message gives Ms. Volpe s lark a timely edge.

Review:‘TheDivineOrder’RecallsFightWomen’sSufferageSwitzerland