Der Kreis, a Swiss film about an underground LGBT publication, is Switzerland’s entry for Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Academy Awards. Described as a docudrama, the movie mixes interviews and reenactments to track the precarious social lives of the readers and publishers of Der Kreis (meaning “the circle”), a political magazine for LGBT people. Although initially published in German, the paper was later translated into French and English and survived Nazi rule even as many other publications shuttered.
The broader political context that the film depicts is often skipped over in LGBT history—the messy period between the Holocaust and the liberation movements of the 1970’s and ’80’s. In Europe, in particular, that transition was uncomfortably slow, as Der Kreis makes clear. The film dramatizes how West Germany retained Third Reich-era legal standards that criminalized homosexuality. Even the comparatively liberal Swiss laws of the time were ineffective at protecting LGBT people from hostility, as the movie’s trailer suggests:
The film focuses on a recent period of history during which LGBT people were categorically treated as criminals—or at least subject to intense scrutiny—and it includes still-living LGBT survivors from that era. In addition, it lingers on the fragile, secret spaces that LGBT people built for each other; some characters call these prison, others call it their life.
To drop a historical spoiler, Der Kreis couldn’t negotiate the tension between being accessible to as many LGBT people as possible while still remaining invisible to the larger world. It closed in 1967 after its address was leaked in the Zürich press. Although the paper closed its doors, the community lived on, reinventing itself in the form of a new periodical, Club 68, which in turn became hey ab. That part of the story will surely resonate with LGBT audiences who are still creating places for themselves.
Der Kreis will screen throughout November in Los Angeles and has already been released in Switzerland, Germany, and Poland.