The Circle Review – The Story of Ernest Ostertag and Robi Rapp Highlight Hard Won Freedoms

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"The Circle," the Swiss official selection for the 87th Academy Award, presents the story of Röbi Rapp and Ernst Ostertag, who after decades of living openly in the shadows, became the first same-sex couple to register for domestic partnership.


Directed by Stefan Haupt, "The Circle," a docu-drama, stars Ernst Ostertag as Matthias Hungerbühler, and Röbi Rapp as Sven Schelker, as the film chronicles the relationship beginning in the 1930's as the two were young, gay and naive in an even younger Switzerland.

"The Circle," brings the viewer into the lives of the openly "gay underground." Even as homosexuality was not illegal, it was almost the "don't ask don't tell" military policy of the Clinton era. Homosexuals were concerned with the possibility of losing employment, or other inalienable rights guaranteed to all and voiced the concern.

"The Circle" introduces the small group of men as they fight for gay rights as members the legendary Der Kreis, The Circle, an organization which published a periodical uniting Switzerland's fragile yet vibrant post-WWII gay community. 

A docu-drama, elements of the "The Circle" is scripted part of the fictionalized lifestyle as documented through memories or journals, and then woven with actual interview sequences by the subjects and living relatives and other who were involved or affected.

The murders inched closer to the group it wasn't until an inner circle member was murdered and the details of his life, frequenting prostitutes or "rent boys," an open support of a liberal pre-AIDS gay lifestyle bordered on vicious.  

As the events are presented, a string of unsolved gay murders brought a spotlight on the publication and other gathering places and became the cause of unnecessary outings which ended badly for many, even in liberal Switzerland.

The unsolved murder became the crux for the police to raid the gay clubs and force those who were secret into the open destroying lives indiscriminately.  

"The Circle" is more than a documentary, more a docu-drama with news footage, personal memorabilia interwoven with scripted action and personal interviews. It surprisingly details a permissiveness culture that suddenly decides boundaries are necessary. It's descriptive and revealing.

Equality is hard won fight as the story of Switzerland's first same sex couple to marry comes to the light it is filled with the skeletons and memories of those who fell along the way in pursuit of the freedom to be.

Select media were invited to meet the director and the two men who are the focus of the documentary at a media brunch held at the Park Avenue residence of the Swiss Consulate.

Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, have the dynamics of any couple who have had such a long life together. They were kind, friendly and honestly adorable. If one did not know they story, one could not have imagined these two elderly, well spoken, gentlemen where a part of an international movement that, through diligent persistence, and simply living a committed life, were in actuality the subject of the film.

In some ways, the film is reminiscent of taboo subjects one would have with ones parents. There are just some things you don't talk about and the youthful indulgences of an aging parent who lived openly practicing any type of sexuality is one of them. Even as adults when children believe any subject is approachable as "we're all adults here" there are simply boundaries.

"The Circle" does contain gay sexual illustrations and full frontal nudity. It depicts a gay lifestyle, which after youthful wanderings, settles into an almost mundane existence of life and love. The two men built a life together when the possibility was non-existent and lived freely, openly, and struggled with the issues of family responsibilities and is the truth necessary if the harm is irreparable?

"The Circle" is Switzerland's Official Submission for Foreign Language Film at the 87thAcademy Awards® and Winner of Panorama Audience Award at 2014 Berlin International Film Festival, Teddy Award at 2014 Berlin International Film Festival and Grand Jury Award at 2014 Outfest.

Not seen simply as a gay film "The Circle" truly presents a piece of history which should be seen for many reasons.

"The Circle"is plying in select cities. Check local listings.

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