The Divine Order
Times are a changin’: “women’s issues” are suddenly topics of mainstream movies, and two years after Sarah Gavron‘s Suffragette about the women’s voting right in the UK, Petra Volpe now delivers the Swiss counterpart: The Divine Order. At first the difference is striking: Suffragette takes place in the beginning of the 20th century and thus about 70 years (!) before the plot of The Divine Order, and also the faces of the two films are fundamentally different. While the British version is gloomily realistic, the Swiss film comes across quite entertaining as well as exceptionally pretty – and by doing that remains faithful to its origin. Mountain panoramas, cute little villages: The Divine Order might be a “Heimatfilm” in the most positive sense.
The main protagonist is Nora (Marie Leuenberger), mother of two children, happily married to Hans (Maximilian Simonischek) and on the whole pleased with her life. However, the illusion of contentment begins to crumble at various points: Nora’s niece is forced into a reformatory and finally taken to prison due to her teenage rebellion, the pensioner Vroni (Sibylle Brunner) finds herself out of money after the death of her husband and Nora herself cannot pursue any gainful employment without her husband’s consent. And while the heroine starts to doubt her dependencies, the Swiss women’s movement slowly but surely arrives in her idyllic village.
The strength’s of the film by Petra Volpe, who also wrote the script, lies in the fairness of the character design. As the main character, Volpe chooses a woman* who is particularly content in her marriage, does not suffer from domestic violence or similar brutal forms of patriarchal structures, but starts to realize the subtle sexisms of her family and social system. Nora offers multiple options for identification, because we still know the kinds of discussions she leads with Hans – about whether male* family members can rinse their plates just as well as females*, about the legitimacy of a working mother and about who gets to have the last word in family decisions.
Nora’s sidekicks are the already mentioned Vroni, the Italian Graziella (Marta Zoffoli) and Nora’s sister-in-law Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig) who escapes her domineering and violent husband. But even in the case of Theresa, as well as regarding the marriage between Nora and Hans, Petra Volpe abstains from demonisations. Theresa’s husband Werner (Nicholas Ofczarek) is not a monster, but himself heavily burdened by patriarchal structures. With characteres like this, The Divine Order also addresses a cis-male audience and shows that feminism is beneficial to all human beings regardless of their gender.
In the beginning, the steps on Nora’s path to a feminist conviction are perhaps somewhat clichéd. The listing of feminist issues as such is a bit too obvious, which makes Volpe risk the sympathy of her viewers who might feel a bit too patronizingly instructed. However, Volpe can recapture her audience with her story’s endearing humor, the beautiful setting and the close to perfect 70s set design. The Divine Order is thoroughly entertaining and defintely worth watching.
And it does not remain on the surface, but dares to go far beyond the cliché: The Divine Order shows that women must often fight the most dangerous counter-forces in their own ranks (and also shows from where this counter-defense originates), and the film emphasizes the importance of female sexuality for the emancipatory struggle, the political in the private sphere. Petra Volpe connects to the contemporary sex-positive discourse which celebrates women as sexual beings – a discourse that was strikingly present in various films at this year’s Filmfest Munich (The Beguiled, Clair Obscur, Tigermilch, to name only a few), movies that place the active sexuality of their heroines at the center of the story and depict it as a form of empowerment. In Volpe’s movie, it is physical self-awareness and the intimate friendship with their own vulvas that work as foundation for the heroines’ empowerment. When Nora, Theresa and Vroni admire their own pussy in a Yoni workshop, this seems to be funny at first – at least that’s what the response in the cinema audience indicates. Films such as Vulva 3.0, however, show that women’s estrangement from their own sexual organs is not an overcome and therefore amusing phenomenon of the mid 20th century, but a very depressing and also painful part of our present. When Nora finally proclaims “There is a tiger between my legs,” she herewith not only finds the strength to oppose her husband, but also to demand a fulfilling sexuality which is equally important for her emancipation and empowerment.
The Divine Order is already among the ten most successful Swiss films of all time. I am not the least suprised, because Petra Volpe offers great cinematic entertainment here. In addition, films like this hit a nerve, they give comfort in regard to our own oppressive moments and arouse courage. Movies like The Divine Order show that resistance is possible, that our freedom and happiness are fighting for and that even the most hopeless battles can be won. Stories like this inspire every human being – regardless of their gender or home country.