British women got the vote (sort of) in 1918, while American women had to wait another two years. Neither country was a particularly early adopter of universal suffrage, though: that honor belongs to New Zealand and Australia — which granted women the right to vote in (respectively) 1893 and 1902 — and parts of northern Europe (Finland, Norway, Denmark) which extended the franchise in the years immediately prior to the Great War.
The rest of the world largely spent the 20th century getting with the program, but one European country stubbornly held out until 1971 — the republic of Switzerland. And even after 1971, when women were permitted to vote at the federal level, some Swiss cantons continued to prevent them from voting on local measures until — wait for it! — 1990.
Switzerland’s submission for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, Die göttliche Ordnung (The Divine Order, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Nov. 24) dramatizes the effort to win women the vote via a referendum in which, of course, only men could participate. Written and directed by Petra Biondina Volpe, the film tells the story from the perspective of housewife Nora (Marie Leuenberger), who undergoes a political transformation while husband Hans (Maximilian Simonischek) is away for two weeks of army reservist training.
Prior to the couple’s temporary separation, Hans has been working in a local factory (where the female boss hands out anti-women’s vote literature to staff) while Nora spends her days cooking, cleaning, and caring for the couple’s children and her cranky and deeply old-fashioned father-in-law. Respite comes via the occasional visit with sister Therese (Rachel Braunschweig), whose teenage daughter Hanna (Ella Rumpf) is rebelling against the natural order of things by spending time with a long haired Zurich university student.
Therese hopes that Nora can talk some sense into Hanna, who we learn has been nicknamed ‘The Village Bike’ by some of the village’s more judgmental residents. With Hans away and some unexpected free time on her hands, Nora agrees to chaperone her niece during a trip to the city, where lessons in feminism and women’s liberation are more freely available — and once exposed to some ‘radical’ literature, she’s soon restyling her hair, wearing blue jeans, and refusing to do the dishes without help from the menfolk.
Even worse: along with a handful of rebellious women such as senior citizen Vroni (Sibylle Brunner) and restaurateur Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), she’s hosting teach-ins and leading the local fight for women’s suffrage. Needless to say, this makes life difficult for her children (who are exposed to schoolyard teasing) and especially for the newly promoted Hans, whose professional future rests in the hands of aforementioned factory boss Miss Wipf (Therese Affolter).
The film’s title refers to the way God intended things to be in Switzerland: a mountain paradise where men made the decisions, women followed orders, and nothing ever changed. And, while The Divine Order offers a fascinating history lesson, it must be said said it’s neither as bold or noteworthy a feature as to warrant Academy attention. In sum, it’s a solid if unspectacular piece of cinema likely to please Swiss audiences more than it will American ones.