The Divine Order

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Switzerland, 1971. Women don’t have the vote. They actually don’t have much in the way of rights at all, unable even to take a job without permission from their husbands.

This is the state of affairs portrayed in Pietra Biondina Volpe’s film, and set as it is in a small rural village, the female inhabitants are very much at the sharp end of things, their purpose in life seen as tending to the needs of husband, children and very often father-in-law too.

Central character Nora (Marie Leuenberger) fed up and bored with her lot, not least by the fact that she has to keep house on the small amount of money given her each week by her husband Hans (Maximilian Simonischek). A husband who will not countenance her taking a part time job with the local travel agent.

Nora’s journey from subjugation to emancipation is a quiet and subtle one, there is no great transformative event, but rather it comes as a culmination of a number of things – a chance meeting, her horror at the way her friend’s husband gives their rebellious daughter up for incarceration in a home, a talk with a stallholder who gives her some literature that opens her eyes, and her mind, to the possibility of a better future.

From there, Nora finds herself organising, and speaking at, meetings, going on marches and attending workshops. Needless to say, this does not meet with the approval of the majority of the folk in her village, her husband, and in particularly her singularly unpleasant father-in-law. But a line has been drawn and she and her friends are not for going back.

It’s no spoiler to say that the vote – a decision made only by men, of course – as to whether women should get the vote, ends with a victory for female emancipation, and thereby, for progress and for civilization. The film’s success lies in the way that it shows the part played by Nora and her comrades may be one small pebble in the shoe of ignorance, but  is still sufficient to see that shoe cast off.

Jim Welsh

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