Shortly before voting day in the winter of 1971, young mum Nora is itching to start working again. She sees a job as a travel agent – but her husband forbids it. Later, on a trip to town, Nora passes a political stand and is handed a pile of feminist literature.
So begins Nora’s journey to becoming her village’s leading “Emanze” (women’s rights activist). Her aim is to win allies and, eventually, conquer the hearts and minds of the men who will decide their fate. Because the coming referendum is the big one – giving women the right to vote.
Die göttliche Ordnung is a comedy for a broader audience, so history is simplified. Nora and her allies are coded to embody aspects of the mainstream feminism of the era: the teen rebel who disowns her oppressive parents; the old battleaxe still remembers fighting for the vote in the fifties; an emancipated Italian adds good food and passion to the table.
Meanwhile, the everyday patriarchal injustices pile up. An unhappy husband under his father’s thumb acts out his anger on his wife. Working men use sexist slurs on their long-haired young colleague. The “head of the family” decides how much pocket money the wife’s allowed.
We know the film has a happy end, politically at least. But will our heroines’ relationships to their partners, and to each other, survive the paradigm shift?
SMD also interviewed five Zurich women about their thoughts on the film and on the state of women’s rights today. You can read that interview here.
Worth a watch?
Die göttliche Ordnung is basically perfect at what it aims to do: provide fun, moving entertainment to a wide audience, and galvanize women today. It succeeds mostly without lecturing us, or relying on obvious period humour.
That being said, a couple of choices niggled, especially the lack of reference to Bigger Structural Goings-On. The focus is always on the more box-office-worthy domestic struggle for hearts and minds, and Nora’s sexual awakening. And there’s also a hint of “the enlightened Zurich way finally reaches the farmer folk”. A Swiss friend from the countryside outside Züri told me the characters felt a little too hinterwäldlerisch – like country hicks.
But the quality of the film makes it easy to forgive. Die göttliche Ordnung is history gleefully written by the winners, and done so with a knowing wink. TV footage from the era bookends the film, and 70s set/costume choices were surely vetted for tastelessness. The dialogue is playful enough to maintain humour at turns gentle and more biting.
Although the protagonists err on the hinterwälderlisch side, they have the depth to surprise us. The battleaxe women’s libber Vroni is also, it turns out, a massive racist – and her political history is actually kind of problematic. When Nora’s grumpy, sometime-misogynist husband tries to bake an apple tart during the strike, it’s not played for farce. You laugh at him a little, but you still want to eat the apple tart.
This deeply human foundation generates lots of well-earned empathy when the story beats hit – particularly among female Swiss viewers who lapped up the movie. You can read the views of female Swiss fans of the film in this post.
Swissness Difficulty Level
Chasseral (beginners). Safe underfoot, clear signposting.
Swiss German (quite easy). D, F, E subtitles all available depending on where you look.
Online streaming is easy to find, e.g. YouTube, cinefile.ch.
Swissness Lab Report: Swiss Women in the 21st Century
Switzerland gave women the vote, by referendum, in 1971. Is there a better example of the drawbacks of consensus democracy? To put that into context, I’m 35, and my friends’ mothers still remember the time only men could vote. For many foreigners here, like me, this is a shock.
Why did it take so long? In this recent article in the Tages-Anzeiger (German), a historian claims there were two major reasons: primarily, the consensus politics meant that wavering politicians on the centre-right were whipped to maintain fractions with the CVP (Catholics) and SVP (nationalist right); secondly, women’s suffrage elsewhere was often granted as a means of stabilizing nations after a time of war, and Switzerland doesn’t do war.
Dropped in 2017 and featuring events leading up to that 1971 vote, Die göttliche Ordnung is equally important for understanding Switzerland’s recent past and its current sociopolitical climate. Because the women’s movement is far from over. In June 2019, more than half a million women and men took to the streets for the the Women’s Strike. In a country of only 8.5 million, this is A LOT of people who still feel something’s not right.
I asked Swiss women about this movie, and about the Women’s Strike of 2019. You can find what they said in SMD’s first ever interview series: Swiss Women On “Die göttliche Ordnung”.
For once, international media covered a Swiss film. This Independent review is particularly good because it doubles as an interview with the director, Petra Volpe.
This link has some basic information in English on the first Women’s Strike of 1991 which helps contextualize things.
There are plenty of articles in English on the Women’s Strike of 2019, as it was covered extensively by the international media. Here’s The Guardian’s piece.
Next week I’ll cover several more excellent sources in my review of De la cuisine au Parlement (2012).