Women's divine rights

 

The Divine Order (M). Director: Petra Biondina Volpe. Starring: Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek, Rachel Braunschweig, Sibylle Brunner, Marta Zoffoli, Ella Rumpf, Peter Freiburghaus. 97 minutes

Marie Leuenberger and Maximilian Simonischek in The Divine Order

To call The Divine Order — Switzerland's worthy though unsuccessful nomination for best foreign language film at this year's Oscars — conventional or even predictable is both true and misleading. This is a historical film that resonates quietly with present day issues surrounding gender politics.

In 1971, Switzerland held a successful referendum for women's suffrage, a few short years after a similar vote in the country had failed. The Divine Order (Die Gottliche Ordnung in the original German) finds tension in historical fact via both broad social extremes, and carefully observed personal drama.

The film opens with a montage of social upheaval in America, from the unbridled joy of Woodstock to the vitality of the women's and civil rights movements. This is juxtaposed with a view of the ordered Swiss village in which the film is set. It seems like a switch not just to another location but to another time.

During the film's early portion we witness the minutiae of Nora's (Leuenberger) daily life. This consists mostly of caring for her two (male) school aged children, attending to the gruff demands of her elderly father-in-law (Freiburghaus), and just generally engaging in the unheralded labour of running the household.

Her factory worker husband Hans (Simonischek) has just been promoted; the factory's owner is leading the local anti suffrage movement and encouraging all her employees to vote No. Nora herself would like to work, and is perplexed by the fact she needs Hans' permission to do so; more so when he withholds it.

When Hans is called up for military service Nora suddenly finds the physical and emotional space to read up on some of the pro suffrage literature that has begun circulating in the village. It wins her over, and before long and after only a little hesitation she finds herself the movement's local figurehead and spokesperson.

 

"Hans takes this revelation badly; not as a sign of some failure of his masculinity, but as an example of his failure to uphold his end of the partnership that is their marriage."

 

We know how this is going to turn out at the broader historical level — the 1971 referendum is successful, 12 years after the failed 1959 vote. And it must be said there is a certain quaintness to the film that makes it feel off the pace of the current conversation around women's rights and status in society.

But its treatment of a number of aspects at the personal level elevate it. Nora is not wed to a patriarchal beast; Hans genuinely loves Nora and is sympathetic to the Yes movement, while also grappling with the expectations of peers, father and employer. It makes his occasional betrayals of Nora that much more piquant.

Also there is an engaging frankness to the film's attention to the sexual liberative dimension of women's self-agency. This is seen in a subplot concerning Nora's niece, Hannah (Rumpf), who adorns her walls with Janis Joplin posters and is derided in social gossip and familial cross examinations as 'the village bike'.

The ill-treatment the girl receives as a result is illuminating not only for her mother (Braunschweig) but also for Nora; especially after they attend a workshop in which participants are encouraged to examine their vaginas (most for the first time), and Nora's admission to friends she has never had an orgasm.

Hans takes this revelation badly; not as a sign of some failure of his masculinity, but as an example of his failure to uphold his end of the partnership that is their marriage. It is a salient insight; the project of gender equality requires men to enter it as partners, with respect and a capacity for serious self-reflection.

 

 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is the editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek, The Divine Order, Petra Biondina Volpe

 

 

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