Der Kreis (The Circle, Stefan Haupt, 2014)
A minute or so into Der Kreis, a film I knew nothing about beyond that it was being shown as part of LGBT History Month, it struck me that the main two interviewees were coming across like an old married couple. This is not the world’s greatest observation, since Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp are married. Doh. It’s still not something you see that often on film.
Zurich, 1956, and not-yet-certified schoolteacher and semi-closeted Ostertag (Matthias Hungerbühler) is visiting the editorial offices of Der Kreis, a homoerotic magazine in three languages that is tolerated by the authorities. Through this he learns of the balls the magazine organises and at one of these he meets and falls in love with Rapp (Sven Schelker), who he at first mistakes for a woman. As the relationship between the two develops, a number of murders within the Swiss gay community leads to a crackdown on the magazine, the balls and the gay bars and Ostertag risks all by becoming more involved in the magazine.
I was a little torn, watching this, as I gladly would have watched more of the interviews with the surviving participants, and I gladly would have watched more of the dramatisations. The traditional disclaimer at the end of the film notes that some characters have been invented or tweaked, and I did wonder at a couple of moments how we knew X had happened or why we didn’t see Y. At the same time, there’s a risk of tin bath nostalgia — an abortion scene in a Nottingham Playhouse production of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1964) was spoilt for me by the person behind me noting that they had that sort of bath once. If the mix of Der Kreis wasn’t quite right, I’m not sure what I would have sacrificed.
Like Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman, 1992), this is a testament to real lives that seem both a long way from now and all too familiar. The shift in attitudes in Switzerland show how easily public opinion and legal toleration can change. The cast is excellent, the talking heads instructive, and a little piece of history is preserved.