“The Divine Order,” October 25, 2020 (2017), DVD, Swiss-German with subtitles. In a way, this third film in three days brings elements of “Marriage Story” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” together. The synergy was not planned but the films just fit very well. This last is the simplest of the three offerings.
We’re trained to think of Switzerland as a cosmopolitan transit point for money and goods, where anything from anywhere can be bought or sold. As a cosmopolitan marketplace. And it is. It is also a nation with a history of theocratic rule and cultural repression. Women did not win the right to vote until 1971. Misogyny ruled: women had no political rights; women could not work outside the home without the permission of their husbands; men made all the decisions for the entire family in connection to the state. Men saw ‘their women’ as satisfied in their God-given place. Written by Petra Biondina Volpe, this comic-drama tells the story of resistance to this Divine Order in one semi-rural village/city.
Nora (Marie Leuenberger) is a Swiss housewife in a small town in rural Switzerland with 2 sons, a husband who works in a local factory, and a nasty arrogant father-in-law. She waits on all of them, washing endless loads of socks, making endless beds, cooking endless meals. She longs to go to work but can’t unless her husband Hans (Max Simonischek) gives her formal permission and he’s not about to do that. She’s also frustrated sexually, although not very self aware. Neither does she know about options until she becomes involved in the domestic troubles of her sister-in-law, her brother-in-law and their rebellious daughter Hanna. After Hannah runs off with her boyfriend, Nora wanders around a market, stumbling on a table with feminist literature. With her husband’s absence from home for a couple of weeks for his military duty, she reads and awakens. This leads her into an alliance with an older woman and an Italian immigrant, come to Switzerland to open a restaurant. Together they go to a demonstration, explore their bodies, and become aware of sexual possibilities. Yes, there are mirrors involved. Consciousness raising took many forms there and, according to sources here involved in similar groups in the US later in the 70s, they too studied similar matter. Together they challenge the town’s other women, their own husbands and families, and the patriarchal order in their small town as the nation moves towards the referendum on their right to vote, to personhood. The town’s women rally to the issue, and their supposed docility melts. What brings them back in line is violence and repression. So much for being satisfied. So much also for Divine Order.
This is both a comedy and a drama. It’s a pleasure to watch. It’s interesting in its connection to “Marriage Story,” especially in comparison to Nicole’s desire to be the center of her own life through her work and even sexually. While Nicole longs to star in her own life and outside it, Nora aspires to the right to work itself. Yet they resemble one another in many ways, not least in resistance from their husbands. Similarly, Nora’s coming to consciousness rests in a community of women that, as in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ underpins her desire and moves towards a more meaningful identity, including in work. In any event, it was interesting to inadvertently run a most satisfying feminist film festival at home.