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A story of true love

17.03.2015 – Barbara Engel

"Der Kreis" was a magazine, "Der Kreis" was a gay organisation and "Der Kreis" is now a film. A film that depicts the love affair between two men in Zurich and the gay subculture which established itself in the city during the 1950s and 1960s. The way in which minorities and marginalised groups were treated has been a recurring theme in Swiss film over recent decades. The tackling of this issue began with "The Boat Is Full" by Markus Imhof in 1980, a film about refugee policy during the Second World War. "Kinder der Landstrasse" by Urs Egger (1992) about the disgraceful treatment of travellers by the authorities also made a lasting impression.

The film "Der Kreis" was a good 15 years in the making. It was initially intended as a documentary and was then to become a feature-length movie. Nothing came of either project. Director Stefan Haupt has now opted for the genre of docu-fiction. It has to be said from the outset that he has brilliantly avoided the pitfalls of this genre – sentimentality and melodrama. His film recounts the love affair between the French teacher Ernst Ostertag and the drag artist Röbi Rapp which has now lasted almost 60 years. In the film the couple are portrayed by the young actors Matthias Hungerbühler and Sven Schelker. They turn in extremely convincing performances, but it is the documentary sections, the accounts by Ostertag and Rapp, which give the film its depth.

The two elderly gentlemen relate what it meant to be gay at that time, only able to express their love in secret and living in perpetual fear for their own middle-class existence. Their experiences of repression and bigotry mean that they still fight in support of gay issues today.

During the 1960s, the gay scene was underground and fighting for recognition. It did so in a society that responded with fear, hostility and often aggression. The film reveals that resentment and discord also existed within the gay sub-culture.

Stefan Haupt succeeds in conveying all these elements without overdramatising or lecturing. The film obviously addresses historical contexts and socio-political developments. However, it is essentially a film about a couple, the story of two people, who continue to love one another into old age against all the odds. Stefan Haupt proves on several occasions that he is a master at dealing with powerful feelings - he manages to portray highly emotional scenes without a hint of awkwardness.

Barbara Engel