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‘Divine Order,’ a Swiss suffragette tale, is entertaining but short on substance

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CAPTION 1: Marie Leuenberger, center, stars as Nora in Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order.” (Courtesy Pascal Mora)
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Women in Switzerland finally got the right to vote under federal law in 1971, and “The Divine Order” celebrates the suffragette campaign behind that shamefully overdue historical moment. Written and directed by Petra Volpe (“Dreamland”), this Swiss import is enjoyable if you don’t expect much. But it’s too superficial and formulaic to do justice to its determined heroines and serious subject.

Like 2015’s “Suffragette,” the drama depicts the struggle for women’s right to vote through a fictional narrative with an everyday, working-class protagonist. In this case, she’s the Ibsenesquely named Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a Swiss housewife who lives with her husband, Hans (Maximilian Simonischek), and their two young sons in a mountain village so petrified in its ways that even the protests that swept Europe in 1968 made little impression.

The story follows the awakening of Nora and the village to the need for gender equality.

Nora is bothered when Hans forbids her from getting a part-time job. Upping her dissatisfaction is the inability of her sister-in-law, Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig), to legally stop her husband, Werner (Nicholas Ofczarek), from punishing their rebellious teenage daughter (Ella Rumpf) by cruel means that include incarceration.

After reading some women’s-suffrage pamphlets, Nora feels stirred.

Quietly but defiantly, Nora refuses to donate money to the campaign led by powerful local figure Charlotte Wipf (Therese Affolter) to defeat the federal ballot measure that would grant women the right to vote. This impresses Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), a veteran of Switzerland’s 1959 women’s-suffrage campaign. Vroni convinces Nora to join the effort and play a leadership role.

Also on board is Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), an Italian restaurateur.

After a rocky start, the campaign gains members and momentum. A women’s strike forces men to take note.

In Zurich, the women attend a workshop on female sexual pleasure, which Nora realizes has been missing from her life.

Hans wants to understand his wife’s feelings, but, pressured by the community’s hard-line men, he puts his foot down. Nora may have to decide between the movement and her marriage.

The film has considerable merits, including timely women’s-rights themes, a winning story and appealing characters and performances. Leuenberger triumphs in the role of the unquestioning housewife who blooms into an activist force.

But this is contrived, sitcommy cinema throughout.

With the semi-exception of Hans, who’s given a little nuance, the supporting characters are stereotypes representing liberation or oppression. Volpe’s lighthearted tone, while fine when the film features joy-flowing camaraderie, prevents the drama from conveying the suffragettes’ determination and the heatedness of the struggle.

The plot unfolds predictably. A contrived big speech seals the film’s status as a cliched affair.

It all adds up to passable entertainment, but the Noras of the world deserve better.

REVIEW:
The Divine Order
2.5 stars
Starring: Marie Leuenberger, Max Simonischek, Rachel Braunschweig, Sibylle Brunner
Written and directed by: Petra Volpe
Rated: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

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