Film review: THE DIVINE ORDER, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

It’s staggering to think that as late as 1971 women were not legally entitled to vote in Switzerland. The inspiring, feel-good, if at times predictable, Swiss film Divine Order dramatises the fight for that right.

Set in a picturesque but culturally repressed Swiss village the film stars Marie Leuenberger as Nora, a timid housewife who becomes a beacon for women’s rights. At first alienated from the growing women’s movement of the early 1970’s, Nora begins to change her thinking as she tires of a life making meals and washing socks for her husband, two boys and miserable bullying father-in-law. Wanting to work but being legally banned from doing so without her husband’s (Maximilian Simonischek) permission, Nora’s disenchantment with her lot sees her embrace feminism and cause of women’s suffrage.

Encountering hostile resistance not the least of which comes from hard-bitten town matriarch and head of the women’s social club, Mrs Wipf (Therese Affecter) Nora begins to gather supporters and initiates political action, including strikes, in the name of their cause.

The Divine Order is a familiar but pleasing and at times moving blend of grass roots political activism, personal reinvention, empowerment and female solidarity.

Leunenberger gives Nora a perfectly judged mix of painful self-doubt and growing strength and it’s no coincidence her name evokes Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Sibylle Brunner is also unforgettable as the no-nonsense Vroni, an older woman damaged by her attempt years earlier to establish an independent life. While many of the males are stereotyped pigs some are allowed more layers than we might have expected. Simonischek is very good as Nora’s husband making him a nuanced character who believes in women’s right to vote but feels compelled to comply with the village’s prevailing patriarchal attitudes.

While shot in a low-key style, the film captures the tumultuous times quite well even though the social revolutions are mostly happening outside the village. For all its political aspirations this is largely a feel-good drama a little like Pride which movingly portrayed the quest for gay rights and workers’ rights in Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980’s.

Well-paced and with fine use of music, The Divine Order is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema although not the potent drama it could have been.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Petra Biondina Volpe.

Release date: 22nd Mar 2018.

Running time: 96 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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