Georg Laschen (Bruno Ganz) is a journalist who feels the pull of war zones across the world, yet cannot understand what it is within his head which attracts these situations to him. It is affecting his marriage to Greta (Gita von Weiterhausen), so that although he still loves her and wants the best for their children, the problems his work places in his mind seem insurmountable, and even she is unsure whether she can live with him anymore. So when the chance arrives for Laschen to travel to the war torn Lebanon, he cannot resist the call of violence...
Someone else who couldn't resist that call was director Volker Schlöndorff, part of the German New Wave in cinema who liked Nicolas Born's novel Die Fälschung so much that he decided to film it - except he wasn't going to go the simple route and create it in a studio or on some safe location, nope, he was going to take his cast and crew all the way to the Mediterranean coast and plonk them right down in the middle of said war zone. The results were not exactly popular, but they were admired among those who sought it out, mainly because of its curious atmosphere fashioned with a "what's real and what's not?" style of filmmaking.
We could tell we were watching a fictional story all right, but once Laschen had reached Beirut whether we were seeing and hearing actual bombs going off and genuine gunfire became entangled in a highly unusual texture of uncertainty. Obviously this was not going to appeal to everybody, and even the most hardened horror movie fan would find themselves disturbed over the question of say, if those bodies we see littering the streets are the real thing or not, especially when for example a fighter will start setting fire to them and you realise, yes, that is a dead person lying there. Amidst this harrowing material, which Schlöndorff spiced up with manufactured conflict settings, wanders Laschen.
Or is it in fact actor Bruno Ganz, for he made it clear he was unhappy to be in this location, suggesting it might be hitting home for him more than he thought it would when he signed up? Ganz worked up an appropriately numb performance which is pressing down on a conflicted turmoil of an inner life, occasionally bubbling up into outbursts such as when his photographer (film director in his own right Jerzy Skolimowski) is encouraged by one sniper to choose which passerby in the street below they want to see him kill and Laschen protests, though not enough to prevent the gunman from opening fire. Alternatively, there's the scene where Laschen is down on the street and someone starts shooting, whereupon he simply stands there, frozen almost with a weird apathy until it strikes him where he is.
One flaw, if that's what it was, turned out to be the manner in which the civil war was explained, or rather wasn't. Though you may emerge from Circle of Deceit with some notion of what it was like on the streets of Beirut, the bigger picture of why it had happened and anything but a vague feeling for what was being fought for and who was doing the fighting came across as less important than Laschen's dark nights (and days) of the soul. New Wave darling Hanna Schygulla showed up as a journalist who immerses herself in the land, to the extent that she wants an Arab baby which her husband could not give her since he was killed, and she has a relationship with Laschen which he fools himself into believing has a better future than the one with Greta. Her character served to muddy his thoughts still further, so that he is twisted by his anguish and the violence around him to actually take part in it in near-apocalyptic sequences near the end. Schlöndorff claimed this was more mood piece than history lesson, and it is, so while brave was not especially enjoyable. Music by Maurice Jarre.