Paragraph 175 may have criminalized homosexuality in post-war Germany, but that didn’t stop many gay men from jumping the border to Zurich, Switzerland. There, with the right contacts, one could join Der Kreis (The Circle): an underground magazine that published essays and illustrations for gay men and hosted secret parties. Of the 2,000 subscribers to The Circle, two – a young man teaching at an all-girls school, and an eighteen-year-old cross-dresser – are the subject of this touching documentary by Stefan Haupt.
Haupt had, at different times in his life, attempted to produce both a documentary and a narrative period piece drama based on the lives of Ernst and Röbi, but it wasn’t until he proposed combining both techniques that the film was finally financed.
Ernst and Röbi, still alive and celebrating 58 years together, guide the film with stories of their experiences with The Circle, which seamlessly bleed into the narrative portions of the film. These are not simple dramatizations but rather a full-fledged cinematic production on par with any period piece drama you would expect to see in theaters today.
The story picks up in 1956 when Ernst (played by Matthias Hungerbühler) first meets Röbi (played by first time actor Sven Schelker) and follows their relationship as police brutality and prostitution turn the public opinion against The Circle. Haupt acknowledges the dangerously indiscriminate nature of the gay scene at the time, but purports that the dominant ideology (as set by Circle leader Rolf) favored long-term partnerships over one-night stands.
The real-life Ernst and Röbi vividly and adorably recall their experiences together. Footage from a recent production shows Röbi performing, to this day, in drag. This humbly told story of personal and world history is one of the best love stories of the year, and an inspired choice for the Swiss submission to the 87th Academy Awards.
8 out of 10 pointsReturn to CIFF 2014 Coverage
Swiss German, German, French
October 23, 2014 (Germany)
1 hr. 42 min.
Documentary, Drama, Romance
Babett Arens, Aaron Hitz, Martin Hug, Matthias Hungerbühler, Peter Jecklin, Ueli Jäggi, Sebastian Ledesma, Marie Leuenberger, Matthias Meier, Markuz Merz, Antoine Monot Jr., Sven Schelker, Ruth Schwegler, Maja Stolle, Marianne Sägebrecht