The film gets its title from Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code of 1871, which states, "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed." According to the film, this law was later modified by the Nazi party to include a broader definition of homosexuality and, of course, the loss of civil rights was uniformly imposed. It was finally abolished in 1969.
For obvious reasons, Paragraph 175 might be called a groundbreaking documentary. It is, for example, a rare examination of Nazi-era homosexuality (like Cabaret without the singing). The direct, charismatic subjects of Dr. Klaus Müller's interviews (most of whom are in their 90's) display a degree of comfort in their own sexuality that is disarming and fresh. The film does great credit to the world's gay communities in that it exposes a deep and joyous human spirit within the men it introduces. And, within that spirit, there is sorrow and shame.
The shame of these victims lies not in their sexual preferences, but in the horrible punishments they endured. One man reveals in a trembling voice that his ass still bleeds from the tortures he endured.
It is important that the horrors of the Nazis be documented, but it is also important that each subsequent film continues to delve to new depths and challenge the revelations of those that came before, lest we become desensitized to the information itself. Paragraph 175 does take on relatively fresh subject matter, but it painfully short in the revelation department. It only corroborates what we already know about the horrors of that time--and vaguely, too. The narrative, ultimately, is restrained and impotent.
The salvation of this picture is the humanity it contains. The men we meet here are vital and smart, reminiscing fondly about their youth, and morosely about the tragedies they've suffered. And, in the end, it is their spirit that touches us.
Run time: 81 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 7th February 2002
Distributed by: Telling Pictures
Production compaines: Channel Four Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Screenwriter: Sharon Wood
Starring: Rupert Everett as Narrator (voice)
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