‘Divine’ tale of Swiss feminist’s awakening

Friday, 01 December 2017, 01:49:50 PM. Switzerland’s selection for this year’s foreign language Academy Award, writer-director Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order” tells the story of the political and sexual awakening of a typical Swiss house frau in 1971 when Switzerland, a “modern” Western European country, had still not given women the vote or changed any of the medieval laws governing the other rights of women.

Switzerland’s selection for this year’s foreign language Academy Award, writer-director Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order” tells the story of the political and sexual awakening of a typical Swiss house frau in 1971 when Switzerland, a “modern” Western European country, had still not given women the vote or changed any of the medieval laws governing the other rights of women.

In fact, when the film’s bored and frustrated wife and mother, Nora (Marie Leuenberger), announces that she’s planning to apply for a part-time job at a travel agency — because she’s tired of living in a wilderness of wet socks with two young sons and a mean and backward father-in-law underfoot and helping her depressed sister-in-law at a nearby farm — Nora’s husband, Hans (Maximilian Simonischek), forbids it, and the law backs him up.

Nora cannot work without her husband’s permission according to Swiss law. The women’s vote is on the ballot and a hot topic all over the country, even at the carpentry business where Nora’s strapping, young husband has just been promoted, and where the repressive female owner forces her employees to vote the way she wants.

Hans’ employer believes women do not need the vote and can influence their husbands with their “wiles.” Everything changes when Nora and her older, widowed friend Vroni (sprite-like Sibylle Brunner) meet Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), the free-spirited and vivacious Italian immigrant divorcee and owner of Vroni’s old pub, which Vroni lost due to her husband’s drinking and which Graziella plans to turn into a restaurant.

After a trip to Zurich, where Nora and Vroni march with “women’s lib-bers” and attend a class to get in touch with their female sexuality, complete with graphic learning aids, Nora and Vroni decide to hold a meeting at the village for women interested in learning more about “feminism.”

The subsequent proceedings will include a “Lysistrata”-like general strike by the women in the village, who believe they should have the right to vote, and the more tumultuous political awakening of Nora’s sister-in-law Therese (an excellent Rachel Braunschweig), whose decisions have much more serious repercussions on her family members, including a wayward, adolescent daughter who has been incarcerated by her father for her behavior.

Leuenberger projects spunk and inner strength from the start as the film’s heroine, and Nora grows more confident as the story unfolds. Her sexual and political makeover is entirely believable.

The winner of the audience award for best narrative at the Tribeca Film Festival, “The Divine Order” will remind some of the 2015 British drama “Suffragette,” and like it, is a throwback to such enlightened American films of the 1970s as “Norma Rae.” Writer-director Volpe, whose previous work I have not seen, works magic with this cast.

(“The Divine Order” contains scenes of anguish and graphic depictions of naughty bits.)

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