The Circle (Der Kreis) was a gay magazine produced in Switzerland and distributed internationally between 1932 and 1967. It is also the name of a docudrama film by director, Stefan Haupt. The film tells the story of a couple who were members of this underground movement that went on to become Switzerland’s first legally-married couple in 2003. The story is an interesting one but it is let down by some problems with its execution.
After World War II many gay people went to live in Switzerland because the country was one of the few places in Europe that had not outlawed homosexuality. Despite it being legal, it was merely tolerated and at times many homosexuals were closeted and repressed because they were scared about losing their jobs. Things worsened when an openly gay composer was murdered by a rent boy because this lead many members of the police to turn on the members of The Circle, who were used as scapegoats so the cops could justify being cruel and violent.
The story looks at the early days of gay rights, much like in the film, Milk. But the most important story told here is the romance that unfolds between the beautiful, cross-dressing cabaret performer, Röbi Rapp and the shy and closeted teacher, Ernst Ostertag. The film actually cuts between archive footage/photos and interviews with these two men and their acquaintances as well as recreations of various events from the past (the young men are played here by Sven Schelker and Matthias Hungerbühler, respectively). This means that the film has a stop-start feel and it is jarring to have so many disparate elements thrown in together. The Circle could have been one of about four different movies and these would’ve succeeded as separate entities far more than this whole.
The Circle is an important story that is told respectfully. It is one that was worth telling but it could have had a greater emotional impact if one of the plots and genres had been focused on, perhaps a biopic about just the couple’s love story. As it is, the plot is rushed but it’s an engaging chapter in history that remains timely, personal and resonant. In short, it’s a good but not great film.
Originally published on 22 March 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2015/03/22/melbourne-queer-film-festival-review-the-circle-der-kreis-switzerland-2014/
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