Ernst and Röbi’s story is now a film

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From “The Circle” | Stefan Haupt | 14465

The story of Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp—a couple since the ’50s and the first men to be married in Switzerland is used by the new film “The Circle” to reconstruct roughly a decade’s worth of gay Swiss history.

The film’s title has significance for Swiss gay history.

The Circle refers to a tri-lingual publication founded in 1932 as a lesbian-oriented periodical, one quickly converted by the pseudonymous “Rölf” (the actor Karl Meier) into a “homophilic” concern. As the couple and supporting interviewees explain, Switzerland never had the equivalent of Germany’s infamous Paragraph 175 or any codified, institutionally enforced homophobic legislation, meaning Zurich became a mecca for continental gay life: The Circle’s annual balls were the only large gay events of their era. That certainly didn’t mean an end to homophobia, with the publication cooperating with the police on self-censorship and gay life occupying a not-quite-public gray zone whose boundaries were increasingly encroached upon by the police.

…The romance between Ernst and Röbi acts as a microcosmic example of a larger debate whose broad terms remain familiar. A teacher from an intellectual family, Ernst remained closeted until his parents’ death, acutely aware they wouldn’t want to learn about his orientation, while Röbi was openly gay and lived in comfortable candor with his mother from an early age. As years pass, the debate takes on a more urgent tone, with Rölf (Stefan Witschi) exhorting monogamy and discretion while his younger staff members find his ideals increasingly outmoded. This split—between openness and closeted, and more broadly a debate about how to live gay life in a public, rigidly straight space—remains germane…


SP

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