Petra Volpe Explores the Personal and Political

Petra Volpe 2017 © Nadja Klier

On this day five years ago, The Divine Order was released. We’re celebrating its writer and director, Petra Volpe. 

Petra Volpe is a Swiss filmmaker, best known for her film The Divine Order, which was released in 2017. The Divine Order is about women’s suffrage in Sweden, where women did not have the right to vote until the 1970s. The film was selected as the Swiss entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. Its international premiere was at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award, the Prize for Best Actress in an International Film, and the Nora Ephron Prize, an award given to “a woman who embodies the spirit and vision of the legendary filmmaker and writer Nora Ephron.” 

The Divine Order also had an FF2 Media-sponsored screening at the 2018 Athena Film Festival, where Petra had a Q&A with FF2 Contributor Lesley Coffin. During the Q&A, Lesley asked Petra about the humor woven throughout a film with such dark subject matter. Petra responded by saying, “Humor is a vital coping mechanism in my life. There’s solace in humor. But I also think filmmaking is a form of seduction, and when you use humor it can open people’s hearts. When you give people permission to laugh at something which is dark, you can really open their hearts and minds.” She went on to say, “And then when you think about how horrible it is that women in Switzerland didn’t have the right to vote until 1971, you have to laugh at the absurdity of it.” 

When asked about the evolution of the characters in the small village of her film, Petra said,  “With Nora, we wanted to show her liberation but in a way which was still subtle and realistic. We could have been flashier, but she wouldn’t have done that and it wouldn’t have been realistic for a woman that age within that world. When we show the women break-free and go on strike, they don’t do anything we would consider extreme. They hang out, drink, talk and play games, but are away from their families. Within this world, that is an act of rebellion.” 

Trogen, Appenzell, Schweiz, 23. Maerz 2016 – Die goettliche Ordnung, Standbild Film Szene 73.

FF2 Contributor Stephanie A. Taylor also had the chance to interview Petra. When Stephanie asked about the things she wanted people to take away from the film, Petra said, “A lot of men reacted very emotionally to the movie because they didn’t feel attacked. […] That opened their hearts toward the injustice against women. That was a very nice experience for these men who came forward and said that they really related to the movie and that they learned something also.” 

Beyond The Divine Order, Petra also wrote the screenplay for Heidi (2015), which was the internationally most successful Swedish film of all time. She also wrote for a mini-series called Labyrinth of Peace, about the illusion of Swedish neutrality in World War II. The series is about a woman, Klara, who takes care of Holocaust survivors, and her brother Egon, who hunts down escaped Nazis. However, the pair discover dark secrets about the Swedish government, who have prioritized profit over justice. 

In regards to Labyrinth of Peace, FF2 contributor Nora Lee Mandel states, “While the six 50-minute episodes (directed by Mike Schaerer) unfold like an enthralling novel, the fictional characters and situations are inspired by real people who faced what Petra calls the moral dilemma ‘responsibility and justice versus profit.’ The most unnerving dialogue and incidents are actually documented.”

With an understanding of the universality of feminism, a keen eye for humor, and an unwavering sense of social justice, Petra is able to create political films with extraordinary nuance, empathy, and tenderness. She approaches the political with the personal, and though her messages are strong, they reach the viewer through the heart first, and then the mind.

© Julia Lasker (10/27/22) FF2 Media


Read Roza Melkumyan’s review of The Divine Order here

Read Stephanie A. Taylor’s interview with Petra here

Read Lesley Coffin’s interview with Petra here 

Read Nora Lee Mandel’s review of Labyrinth of Peace here

Read about The Divine Order winning the Nora Ephron Prize here 

Read about Jan Lisa Huttner’s experience at the FF2-sponsored Divine Order screening here


Featured photo: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films / Photo by Nadja Klier

First photo: Courtesy of Zeitgest Films

Bottom photo: Courtesy of Zeitgest Films

Tags: Academy Awards, Athena Film Festival, Heidi, Labyrinth of Peace, Nora Ephron Prize, Petra Volpe, political films, Q&A, The Divine Order, Tribeca Film Festival, Women's suffrage

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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