“I believe God’s plan is for all people. All different, but all the same”
1971 was a year of turmoil in many places. But most of that seemed far away from a village in Switzerland. Life just goes on there. But there is to be an election about giving women the right to vote. (Of course, only the men will be voting on this issue.) In The Divine Order an unassuming housewife must take on a leadership role in the women’s suffrage movement in her locale.
Nora, a young mother and wife, would like to return to work, but her husband vetoes the idea. Under the law, she cannot work without his permission. When he goes off on his military reserve duty, she begins to meet other women who have their own stories of little (or not so little) oppressions. With the suffrage vote coming up, they begin to see that as a way to establish their rights to make their own decisions. As the film shows some of the ways the women are subtly oppressed, we hear the wonderful Lesley Gore song, “You Don’t Own Me”. (Perhaps my favorite use of a song this year.)
When they plan an event, it falls to Nora to lead. But as the leader she also becomes the focus of the opposition. In time the women go on strike, leaving their husbands and families to get by as best they can. Soon there will be uproar and the men will make their own response.
Looking back it seems a bit bizarre that a place like Switzerland was one of the last democracies to allow women full political rights (and in some cantons, it didn’t happen until even later.) Of course, all though the long history of women’s suffrage, the argument against has always included that equality was against nature and “the divine order”. It was argued that God has set men above women. But such an argument is inevitably abusive, and certainly ignores the gifts that God bestows on each person, regardless of gender.
But the film is not just a matter of looking at this decades-old event. In the film Nora is called to step up and lead the women (and the men) in the town to see what would be the right thing to do. Although for her it started just as wanting to go back to work, she grew into a new role, both in the village and in her relationship with her husband. Often the biggest hurdle in getting something done is to understand that we must become active. As Nora notes at one point, “That’s exactly why they think they can treat us like this. Because we sit quietly and never say anything.” The Divine Order is not just a time to think about what has been done to bring greater equality and justice to the world, but a challenge to find our own way of stepping into the fray to continue to bring justice.
The Divine Order is Switzerland’s official submission for Oscar consideration in the Foreign Language Film category.
Photos courtesy of Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber