Interview, Audio: Director Petra Volpe Issues ‘The Divine Order’

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CHICAGO – It is astounding to note that Switzerland did not have the vote for women until 1971. Writer/director Petra Volpe was also astounded at the ignorance of that history, so she set out to create a drama about the event. “The Divine Order” is set in a small Switzerland village, where the winds of change are coming.

“Order” features Marie Leuenberger and Maximilian Simonischek, portraying Nora and Hans, a couple whose marriage is at the crossroads. By happenstance, Nora is drawn into the Switzerland feminist movement in the early 1970s, against the dictate (the “divine order”) that states men are the absolute heads of the household, and are the only ones that can vote in the country. Nora’s journey represents the awakening of women in Switzerland, which brought a new equality. Writer/director Petra Volpe created a fictional village, with characters that symbolized the various factions both for and against a woman’s right to vote.

’The Divine Order,’ Directed by Petra Volpe
Photo credit: Zeitgeist Films spoke to Volpe at the Chicago International Film Festival in October of 2017, and the film opens November 17th at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. What fascinated you about the history of this story, and what was the origin of the idea to set it in a small village?

Petra Volpe: For me, the town was a metaphor for all of Switzerland… it’s not even named, in the screenplay it is called ‘a village, somewhere in Switzerland.’ The 1971 edict that gave women the right to vote was on a federal level, but each state had to vote on it as well.

One of the states, where we filmed, didn’t get women the vote until 1990. The Swiss like to point out this ultra-conservative region as scandalous, but I think that 1971 was also scandalous as the date on a federal level. I still think Switzerland is a socially conservative country, and through the film I want them to take responsibility for their history. Is the story taught in history in schools?

Volpe: It’s almost non-existent in the schools, I didn’t know anything about it. Everybody knows that the date of the vote was late, but they don’t talk about it. When I started to research the project, I found out that the fight began one hundred years before the right was granted, and it was an organized fight. It was politics in a parallel sense to the other government, but they weren’t allowed to participate. These women were fierce, courageous and non-existent in our history books. That’s why I brought it to the screen, it’s typical for women’s history to be non-existent overall. What are the roots of the activism that catapulted the information to the small towns, as depicted in the film?

Petra Volpe of ‘The Divine Order’ in Chicago
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

Volpe: In 1959, when a big push for those rights were defeated, it was enraging enough to keep the issue as the forefront. As the changes in the late 1960s took place, there were a group of younger women who came in and really started pushing back. While the 1959 activists tried to be reasonable with the government, their sisters ten years later were saying ‘f**k this.’ They took it to the streets and became much more aggressive. There were inspired by the changes of the 1960s all around them.

I interviewed a 99 year-old woman who was part of the earlier movement, and she was still upset about the street demonstrations. She didn’t even think that women could wear trousers instead of dresses. Yet she fought for the suffragette movement her entire life. So that just illustrates the two different approaches to fighting for rights.

In the audio portion of the interview, Petra Volpe talks about women’s solidarity, the fear of change and the reactionary rise of Trumpism.

“The Divine Order” has a two week run in Chicago through November 30th at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 North State Street, Chicago. For showtimes, click here. Directed by Petra Volpe. Not Rated. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2017 Patrick McDonald,

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