Feminism, especially its rise in the 1970s, is a topic movies don’t typically explore, and that’s one reason why Swiss writer-director Petra Volpe’s comedy The Divine Order is an unexpected delight. Nora (the magnificent Marie Leuenberger) goes from a conservatively dressed, uncomplaining, rural housewife to an organizer in blue jeans, determined to get voting rights for women (which Switzerland didn’t grant until 1971). An older widow, Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), and an Italian divorcée, Graziella (Marta Zoffoli) join her cause. With the help of red wine, plates of homemade lasagna, and honest conversation, they recruit nearly every woman in their village.
The costumes (by Linda Harper) and hairstyles precisely re-create the early ’70s. The Tweety Bird yellow of the shirt Nora wears after a shopping spree will, for those who grew up during that era, stir memories of class photo day. When Nora goes to a salon and emerges with her hair cut and curled, she could be a contestant on The Newlywed Game.
Though the story has a predictable ebb and flow, the film includes some stunning moments, as when Nora says no to her husband, Hans (Max Simonischek), and he responds in an astounded voice, “But I asked so nicely.” In a scene that would never be included in an American comedy, Nora, her sister-in-law (Rachel Braunschweig), and Vroni attend an Our Bodies, Ourselves–style workshop. Though they are at first hesitant and embarrassed, they stay and end up adopting the New Age rhetoric of the blonde, Swedish facilitator, giving unflappable Nora the film’s funniest line.
The Divine Order
Directed by Petra Volpe
Screens April 28 and 29, the Tribeca Film Festival