The Circle (2014)
Directed by: Stefan Haupt
A review by: chagheill101
An intriguing mixture of both classic narrative and documentary, The Circle recounts the true story of Ernst Ostertag (Matthias Hungerbühler) and Robi Rapp (Sven Schelker) in 1958 Zurich, Switzerland. Ernst, a soon to be teacher, falls deeply in love with Robi, a well-known transvestite entertainer, and becomes a subscriber to an empowering, homoerotic magazine. The magazine, titled ‘The Circle’, soon consumes Ernst with his dedication as he experiences the slow demise of its publication. This film depicts the victories and the backsets of the homosexual community at this time in history. With the current day, real-life protagonists commenting on their journey, The Circle clearly demonstrates the oppression and triumphs of homosexuals’ rights in Zurich.
Though primarily a love story, this film expanded to elaborate on larger, external pressures of being a homosexual at this time in history. In a world of compulsory heterosexuality (GNDS125 Lecture, January 26, 2015), where the accepted norm was for people to be attracted to those of the opposite sex, the viewer is shown the illegalization of homosexual activity in Zurich. Haupt was successful in manifesting a recreation of the events in such a way that the viewer was compelled to empathize for the protagonists, making this film extremely powerful for any audience regardless of their personal sexualities. The portrayal of Robi obliterated any ideas of gender polarization (GNDS125 Lecture, January 22, 2015), (the idea or presumption that males and females are complete opposites and have no similar qualities) through his moonlighting career as a cabaret singer, commanding his own sexuality and stereotypical feminine qualities.
An interestingly accurate aspect of this film was the Queer-cripping (GNDS125 Lecture, February 2, 2015) of the Head Master, Max (Peter Jecklin). Queer-cripping is the idea that people who are homosexual are seen as less able, and less qualified than those who are “normal” or heterosexual. Upon his outing and suicide to his peers and coworkers, a sort of callous response is shown. Immediate judgments of his position at the school were thrown, and the staff unanimously indicated a disapproval of his contributions, all because of his sexual orientation. This darker portion of the film illustrates the stigma (GNDS125 Lecture, February 2, 2015), the mark of disgust and disgrace associated with homosexual people in the 1950’s to 1960’s, some of which we still see in today’s society; again proving how relevant this story is even in 2015.
Rape culture and sexual violence play heavy roles throughout the retelling, the murder of two homosexual members of ‘The Circle’ kick-start the public’s distaste in the previously accepted culture. A male prostitute in Zurich during the year 1960 had been paid for sexual activities, and then beat the men who had purchased the sexual services with a broken glass bottle. This portion of the film was the most compelling and relevant to the film’s overall importance. When the prostitute was taken to court for the two murders, they were ruled not guilty, solely because the jury had been told that the murderer was corrupted by the gay men, and seduced by the devil into doing evil things. In essence, this film captures the classic prejudice towards the homosexual minority, notably similar to the tale of prejudice towards Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (Lee, 1960). Both Tom Robinson and the murdered homosexual men were associated with a discriminated minority, and were blamed for crimes they did not commit, only because of their race/sexuality. Along with the lack of prosecution of the guilty, extreme police brutality towards the homosexual community was shown continuing on into the late 1960’s accompanied by out-bursting riots.
In 2015, this film is applicable in almost every way. With rape culture and sexual violence still proceeding as a major issue all over the world, as well as prejudice towards the homosexual community. This film acts as educational and informative, while still providing an entertaining 102 minutes. Haupt takes the audience by surprise and gives a contrasting yet consistent view of the oppression, although the reoccurring flash-forwards to the present day Robi and Ernst act as a block, preventing the film from reaching its full potential to keep the viewer locked into a tensile plot.
The only true downside to this film is its androcentric (GNDS125 Lecture, January 26, 2015) plot. The entirety of this film focuses on the male homosexual experience of the oppression, with minimal to no female inclusion. With this being the only non-progressive aspect, this movie is near perfect in establishing and demonstrating the early homophobia in twentieth century Europe.
The Reelout Film Festival itself was yet another bonus to the viewing of this piece. With a welcoming atmosphere, and an audience of every demographic, it was clear that this relatively low-key event was successful in screening LGBTQ friendly films. The festival was complete with local filmmakers’ work, as well as local sexual health workers and enthusiasts to discuss their thoughts and feelings about The Circle. The environment was conducive to understanding and respectful of the history behind the film, which was well received by all in the audience. Overall, this festival was a positive experience, and definitely a must-attend to all in the future.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins, 1960. Print.
The Circle. Dir. Stefan Haupt. 2014. Film.
Tolmie, Jane. “Ads, Images, Visual Culture.” Queen’s University. Kingston, ON. 26
January 2015. GNDS125 Lecture.
Tolmie, Jane. “Agency, Coincidence, Choice.” Queen’s University. Kingston, ON. 2
February 2015. GNDS125 Lecture.
Tolmie, Jane. “Gender Socialization.” Queen’s University. Kingston, ON. 22 January 2015. GNDS125 Lecture.