Even though it takes place nearly five decades ago, “The Divine Order” is disconcertingly timely, a clear reminder that men have been oppressing women across cultures for far, far too long.
The year is 1971. The hippies are already fading in America, but anti-war protests are still going strong. And a new movement, the women’s movement, seems to be gaining momentum.
But in Switzerland, that seemingly placid land beyond war, women have not yet won the right to vote. Beyond that, wives are legally required to do whatever their husbands want. They can’t work without their husband’s permission, the husband is empowered to make all family decisions.
Still, a vote is coming: Men will be voting on whether to give women the right to vote. Talk about irony.
Into this political quagmire wanders Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a meek mother of two boys who lives in a small village with her amiable-but-traditional husband, Hans (Maximilian Simonisheck). She spends her days doing wash, making meals and caring for her grouchy father-in-law. She spies a job opening in the newspaper and decides to apply for it.
But Max offhandedly forbids it. He’s not about to start doing the wash or fixing food.
That little nudge is all it takes for Nora to load up on feminist literature on an outing in Zurich. Soon she’s trying to organize women in her village to take up the cause of women’s rights. At first it’s slow going — even many women are aghast at the idea —but then Nora gains momentum.
In many ways “The Divine Order” itself is a direct political tract, progressing just as you would expect, but with some deft flashes of humor. But Leuenberger brings a vulnerability and defiance to Nora that elevates the film past dogma or sentimentality. She makes Nora more than a female placeholder; she makes her human.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
‘The Divine Order’
Running time: 96 minutes