In the opening scenes of her stirring comic drama The Divine Order, writer/director Petra Volpe collages together images from the U.S. sexual revolution and civil rights movements -- turbulent, raucous demonstrations -- before plopping us down in 1971 Schweiz, a quiet, rural canton of Switzerland, where women still don't have the right to vote. We meet Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a wife and mother of two young boys, who looks like she'd be right at home in Maria von Trapp's old Austrian convent. Nora bids her little family farewell and then coasts on her Schwinn up and down the twisty tree-lined roads to her sister-in-law's farmhouse to help out with housework. On her bicycle, Nora is exuberant and breathless, a winky tip-off to where this story is heading: These two-wheeled freedom machines were, in real life, instrumental to the suffrage movement around the world.
The second Nora opens the free pamphlets and books from the local feminists, she's rapt, so much so that her confused sons must interrupt her from her reading to remind her to make their food. When she asks them to clear their own dishes, their response is both truthful and tragic: "But … we're boys." She seems to realize she's fighting this fight for them as much as for herself. This story isn't so much about the vote as it is about imagining a future of fulfillment for all, including Nora's drunken and depressed brother-in-law Werner (Nicholas Ofczarek), who's stifled by codes of manliness that dictate he must carry on his family's business. The Divine Order is both a celebration of the movement and a reminder that it sometimes takes just one person to kick the snowball that becomes the avalanche.
Here are some quick U.S. stats: White women won the vote in 1920; some Native American women could vote in 1924, while the rest could not until 1947; Asian-American women first voted in 1952; and black women had to wait until the 1960s to freely exercise this fundamental right. But...
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