On the world stage, Switzerland is often thought of as a neutral, progressive and all-around first-rate country—so much so, that it may surprise some to learn that Swiss women only got the vote in 1971. This is the basis for The Divine Order, the Swiss Oscar entry this year from director Petra Volpe, who appeared recently for an Awardsline panel, following a screening of the film.
“It’s kind of hidden in plain sight because everybody knows about it. It’s not that you can’t talk about it, but it wasn’t taught in school,” Volpe told Deadline’s Senior Editor Dominic Patten. “When women actually got the right to vote, a lot of people, especially politicians, were quite ashamed, so it was kind of swept under the carpet. I thought that it was important to feel something about [our] history, what it actually means for our country.”
In The Divine Order, Marie Leuenberger plays Nora, the leader of a band of Swiss housewives who fight for the right to vote. Preparing for the role, the actress referenced a book by American acting coach Susan Batson, which suggested figuring out what kind of animal your character might be, as an acting exercise. Finding herself stumped, Leuenberger realized Nora wasn’t an animal at all, but rather, a plant. “In the beginning, there is only a seed, and then it starts growing towards the Sun,” the actress said. “It’s a tiny, fragile flower, but it’s a strong one, one that breaks through the asphalt.”
Volpe also touched on the reception the film received in Switzerland, suggesting how far the nation has come from the time of the story, when the late-date suffrage amendment was a source of shame for many. “The reception in Switzerland was extremely enthusiastic because there were so many women who were so grateful that finally, their story was told. They schlepped all their husbands to the movie also, and that was very good because I think the movie also moved a lot of men,” the director said. “It doesn’t villainize men—it shows how the patriarchy is a systemic oppression, and the patriarchy also presses men, and puts them in a prison of a role of who they have to be.”
To view more of Deadline’s conversation with The Divine Order‘s Volpe, Leuenberger and producer Reto Schärli, click above.