Swiss Oscar contender ‘The Divine Order’ champions women’s voting rights

Film aficionados and Oscar pundits have proclaimed this “The Year of Women,” thanks to feminist films from women directors like “Lady Bird” and “Wonder Woman,” and crusading performances from the likes of Meryl Streep and Frances McDormand. Well, count Switzerland’s official Foreign Language Oscar selection “The Divine Order” among this year’s most compelling stories about empowered women.

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Written and directed by Petra Biondina Volpe, “The Divine Order” shines a spotlight on an idyllic countryside town in Switzerland, and the life of one of it’s inhabitants, Nora (Marie Leuenberger). While Nora fills the duty of a perfect, classic housewife, hushed rumors of a women’s liberation movement invade the town. It is months before women’s right to vote will make it onto the ballot in a 1971 election. Audiences may have seen inspirational tales about suffrage before, but “The Divine Order” is unique in that it stays away from the battlegrounds of major cities and focuses on one woman’s political journey, and the effect it has on a remote village. This is a story of the every-woman.

The film also sets itself apart with Volpe’s ability to mine comedy from the otherwise serious subject matter. Yes, there’s a fight for gender equality in a religious leaning society, but there’s also hysterical bits that play off the quaint charm of the rural characters. The mix of social commentary and comedy turns the film into a crowd pleaser with wide appeal.

The timeliness of the story could also boost the film’s awards prospects. It’s impossible to not think of Harvey Weinstein and the many other allegations of sexual assault against prominent Hollywood figures while watching Nora and her cohorts fight off rampant misogyny. Citing “The Divine Order” among this year’s Foreign Language Feature nominees would provide the Academy with a fantastic opportunity to stand behind gender equality.

Should “The Divine Order” reap an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature, it will be the first Swiss film to do so since 1990. That year, “Journey of Hope” carried Switzerland to victory. It was the second win out of five nominations for the European country, the other victory coming from 1984’s “Dangerous Moves” starring Liv Ullmann. Can Volpe return her country to Oscar’s good graces? With its resonant story, “The Divine Order” could be poised for an Oscar miracle.

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