Aimée & Jaguar
review by Elias Savada, 13 October 2000

When War is Hell, and it certainly is in Max Färberböck’s captivating World War II saga of love found and lost in battle-weary Berlin, a fiercely determined Bohemian and her lover each discover a personal joie de vivre and scream back the Hell with War. Aimée & Jaguar is a striking, poignant, and seductive saga of a Jewish lesbian in love with the dallying wife of a Nazi officer and mother of four. As far-fetched as this sounds, Färberböck’s impressive first feature, based on a true story, triumphantly walks that same fine tightrope that earned Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful so much international acclaim. A much darker film, in style if not content, this official German selection for the Academy Awards (it didn’t make the final cut) is a fascinating saga that treads parallel story paths with Paul Morrisson’s Solomon and Gaenor. Both are tragic love stories dealing with hidden Jewish identity and socially forbidden relationships, not to mention the obvious titular similarities.

Färberböck’s bolder characters are actually pet names for Lilly Wust (Aimée), a hopelessly romantic, blonde-haired housewife whose carefree, heterosexual inclinations slowly melt under the seductive plotting of Felice Schragenheim (Jaguar), who leads an adventurous life under the assumed surname Shrager, hiding her religion, sexual inclination, and espionage work for the underground. Her job as an editor at a Nazi newspaper affords her access to a safe filled with state secrets while she harbors her own; her semi-lecherous boss clueless about her activities until close to war’s end. But the story, told in a 54-year-old flashback, begins in mid-November 1943, with Felice and her girlfriend Ilse (Johanna Wokalek) attending an evening out at the symphony. Ilse points out the feckless Frau Wust (with her latest Nazi lover), for whom she works as the family’s nanny/maid. The cuckolded husband is off fighting (and fornicating) for the Fatherland. Quite the model family. As the Battle of Berlin streaks the bomb-laden skies with blood-tinged flames (one of the many effective shots by British director of photography Tony Imi), and the confused concert audience rushes to the bomb shelters, the ever-opportunistic Felice, offers a cool, bold exterior and makes her first, casual contact with Lilly.

Despite the barriers that lie ahead, Felice forges on with her outlandish notions toward Lilly, refusing her best friend’s advice that such a plan is fraught with danger. She writes secret letters to her would-be lover, which are misconstrued as originating from one of the male officers that occasionally share her bed. She finagles her way into the family home through Ilse, who becomes a third-party observer and the potentially spurned third-woman-out. While playing silent cheerleader to Felice, Ilse roots for her friend’s defeat (while also hiding her friend from the Gestapo in her father’s apartment), knowing that her jaded employer’s ability to “smell out a Jew” will doom Felice’s gay designs. The reckless progress is followed by Felice and Ilse’s coterie of friends, who spend time drinking, carousing, and acting naughty.

As embodied by Juliane Köhler and Maria Schrader (who shared best actress Silver Bear awards at the Berlin Film Festival), the eponymous leads are cut from the stereotypical mold of generations-ago German decadence and hedonism. Flashes of Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks flirt around the edges of these extraordinary women in Max Färberböck and Rona Munro’s screenplay, itself adapted from a best-selling book by Erica Fischer, based on Lilly Wust’s memories a half-century later. Köhler’s Lilly is the richer role, subtle with innocence, then aflame with childish curiosity and fascination before her new-found self-confidence is torn away and her life shattered into a thousand fragile pieces. As Felice, Maria Schrader epitomizes the clever Jew, boldly courageous in the face of adversity, vulnerable to a Nazi Germany bent on her race’s destruction, but refusing to be intimidated.

Generally filmed in exceedingly low light situations and with blue/gray tones, faces are lost in shadowy darkness and the ominous starkness reflective of the times makes this remarkable story all that more emotionally charged. Lesbian or not, you’ll find a fatal attraction to Aimée & Jaguar. Like a good book, it’s hard to put down.

Directed by:
Max Färberböck

Maria Schrader
Juliane Köhler
Johanna Wokalek
Heike Makatsch
Elisabeth Degen
Detlev Buck 
Peter Weck
Inge Keller

Written by:
Max Färberböck
Rona Munro




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