“The Divine Order” opens to a series of clips of the various social movements that now identify 1970s America. Black Panthers and second-wave feminists take turns marching across the screen as a woman details, in German, the grinding momentum of social change that defined this era. Disappointingly, this sequence of collected ’70s footage has more urgency than any other moment in the rest of the film.
After leaping out of the States, the film lands at the foot of a small Swiss mountain town where protagonist Nora (Marie Leuenberger, “Bright Lights”) and her family are introduced. Nora is spurred into action as a champion of women’s rights when her husband prevents her from returning to work. Living in a small, conservative, religious town, odds ever so stacked against her, Nora sets her sights on a vote for women’s suffrage to be held the following month.
Nora assembles a motley crew of outcast and disenfranchised women from her town to aid in her stand against the patriarchy. An old widow and an Italian with a failing marriage are her first two compatriots, and before long the town’s entire female populations seems to have dropped everything to join Nora’s cause.
This expansive ensemble, however, is where the film shoots itself in the foot. “The Divine Order” tries too hard to force feed a town down the audience’s throat, not trusting Nora or the other central characters to prove the setting themselves. In scene after scene, new minor characters are introduced, each complete with their own little subplot; these characters feel tacked-on, and do nothing for the movie but bog it down, really preventing any rhythm from being established at all. The film isn’t very long, but with the weight of all the unnecessary filler, it certainly feels so.
The film misses a great opportunity with Nora’s niece, a rebellious teen named Hanna. Throughout the whole movie, Nora and her group of now-empowered women slowly tip-toe their way out of domestic complacency — meanwhile, Hanna is punished for trying to do the exact same thing. By shoving Hanna into a cell 15 minutes into the runtime, and using the treatment of her by her family as nothing more than a source of parental guilt, the film misuses a character with potential to drive the plot in a different direction. Another version of “The Divine Order” focuses on how the generational gap can shrink when both sides give up a little ground. The other version is probably better, too.
The plot is inconsequential, portraying active civil participation in a good light, but lying to itself about the weight of the work being done by the activists. The referendum for women’s suffrage was held at the federal level, so while Nora’s efforts may have swayed opinions in her community, the outcome of the vote would have been the same with or without her influence in the end.
“The Divine Order” is not completely without merit, however. The score, in particular, is a pleasant surprise, and the cinematography, while relatively reserved, creates a nice atmosphere. The performances are all perfectly acceptable; the story just couldn’t keep up with the pace. With a little less fluff, putting Nora at the helm of the film, and a touch more respect paid to Hanna’s character, there is the potential for something really good — which is a shame, because what is put on the screen was not. “The Divine Order” can be reduced down to a fairly bland attempt at a feel-good feminist flick.