The Circle (REVIEW)

The Circle

An amazing story of two gay men who met and fell in love in a time when it was illegal, and yet who are still together to this day.

The Circle (Der Kreis) is an amazing true story of two men who fall in love in 1956 Zurich, and who are still together today.

Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp met through their association with a very underground gay organization and magazine called The Circle. The Circle was a group of gay men who wanted to get together to meet other gay men, and to publish a magazine specifically for the gay community. It was founded in 1942, and included photos of scantily clad men and announcements of get togethers such as costume balls, as well as racier text written in English that the censors were unable to read. It was popular not only in Switzerland but it was smuggled into Germany where it got into the hands of the gay German population who viewed Zurich as a city of gay freedom, but it was hardly that. Many gay Germans, however, would go to Zurich on the weekends to embrace the gay underground scene in that city.

Part documentary, part dramatic recreations, and including interviews with the men associated with Der Kreis, The Circle takes us back to a time when being gay was not accepted. The gay movement in Europe was still reeling from the atrocities of Hitler during WWII, and even in Switzerland it wasn't very easy being gay. In the movie, Ernst Ostertag (played by Matthias Hungerbuhler) is a teacher about to be certified. He wanders into The Circle offices to volunteer and speaks to Rolf (Anatole Taubman), the 'father' of The Circle. At one of The Circle costume balls (where there are lots of scantily clad men posing as Greek statues), he meets Robi Rapp (Sven Schelker), who, dressed as a woman, is the singing entertainment of the evening. Ostertag is immediately smitten, and they fall in love. It's a love that that they have to keep secret, as Ostertag is not out at work (as most people weren't during those days). Ostertag evens runs into his boss at the school at a local cruising ground.

Rapp has an understanding mother who knows all about him being gay, so Rapp takes Ostertag to meet her. But Ostertag's parents are quite the opposite, and when they meet Rapp they speak about everything except their relationship.

The police start to shake down the staff at The Circle after a few gay men are murdered by a hustler, including an in-the-closet well-known music composer. So the police tell Rolf that they can no longer hold their costume balls, but they instead decide to have a gathering in a local bar. Ostertag initially didn't want to go as his teacher's certification was about to go through, but he ends up going to see his boyfriend Rapp sing. Unfortunately, the bar gets raided by the police, the men are asked for their ID's, sent outside, and told to strip, where their private parts were inspected by the police, in front of the local neighbors. Ostertag and Rapp are lucky enough to escape out of a back door.

But nothing can stop Ostertag and Rapp and the love they have for each other. But The Circle magazine is not able to survive, and eventually the magazine ceases operation in 1967. And in this movie Ostertag and Rapp are telling us, their story, 50 years after it had taken place. And as they tell the stories to the camera, the movie goes back to their early era in excellent dramatic recreations. The Circle is centered around their love story, a love story that transcended its time. Theirs became the first officially accepted gay partnership in Switzerland, which they celebrated in 2003. Winner of Audience and Teddy Awards at the Berlin Film Festival this year, The Circle is now available on DVD.