The Circle

"Very Good"

The Circle Review


An intriguing combination of drama and documentary, this Swiss film tells a simple story that's compelling and still timely, addressing issues of equality and prejudice from an often startlingly personal perspective. Although since both the reality and dramatisations are so intriguing, they sometimes seem to interrupt each other, undermining a strong emotional punch that's clearly in there somewhere.

In present-day Zurich, Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp are pensioners reminiscing about their past. Cut to 1956 when Switzerland was the most open-minded country in Europe and schoolteacher Ernst (Matthias Hungerbuhler) joins The Circle, a secret society of homosexuals united by lively parties and a magazine that's widely distributed around the world. When Ernst meets the flamboyant cross-dressing entertainer Robi (Sven Schelker), he's instantly smitten. But their free-spirited life becomes increasingly strained when the police crack down on the gay subculture, paranoid about a series of rentboy murders around the city. And if the police commissioner (Markus Merz) succeeds in getting The Circle's organiser (Stefan Witschi) to release his mailing list, a lot of men will find their jobs and families under threat.

The two aspects of this film are both cleverly assembled, as Ernst and Robi narrate their own story and add telling observations to every event. This gives the dramatic recreations a spark of honesty that echoes in the earthy, natural performances by the actors. Hungerbuhler and Schelker make an offbeat couple, contrasting strongly both physically and emotionally. Robi feels that all of his life is unified, bringing his mother (the wonderful Sagebrecht) and Ernst together as his family. But Ernst wants to keep his harshly religious family very separate from his life with Robi.

Oddly, director Stefan Haupt takes a somewhat timid approach to the dramatic scenes, shying away from any positive expressions of physicality (the only sex scene is deliberately disturbing), which kind of undermines his attempt to put a happy spin on sexuality as represented in the colourful bar nights and sassy attitudes. In a way, Haupt is giving in to the same pressures Ernst and Robi felt 50 years ago to hide their relationship from the public gaze and present gay life in a way that fits into the usual boxes. But Ernst and Robi's documented story ultimately wins the day, as they finally are legally allowed to get married in 2003, an event they could never have imagined as young men. And this is an important reminder that despite new openness in Europe, many countries still marginalise and openly discriminate against people for who they are.



The Circle

Facts and Figures

Genre: Foreign

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Friday 8th September 2000

Distributed by: Winstar Cinema

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 56 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Stefan Haupt

Producer: Urs Frey, Ivan Madeo

Starring: as Jay, as Stan, as Rick, as Dad, Jill Jacobson as Mom, as Cop

Also starring:

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