AIMEE & JAGUAR directed by Max Färberböck, written by Färberböck and Rona Munro, produced by Günter Rohrbach and Hanno Huth, with Maria Schrader, Juliane Köhler, Johanna Wokalek and Heike Makatsch. A Mongrel Media release. 125 minutes. Opens Friday (January 19). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 73. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
lesbians and history buffs areunited in their desire to see Aimée & Jaguar. Here's a film based on the true story of the love affair between Nazi housewife Lilly Wust and Jewish underground member Felice Schragenheim. It's a tale of heroism, blinding love and sex amidst the fall of Nazi Germany -- a surefire combination, but it's only semi-successful. In 1994, the 80-year-old Wust revealed the details of this extraordinary relationship to Austrian journalist Erica Fischer, who took their interviews along with the couple's love letters and poems and penned an international best-seller. Wust and Schragenheim's relationship has also been portrayed in radio and TV documentaries, a stage play, a musical version of Schragenheim's poemsand now the feature film.
The movie stars Maria Schrader as Felice, or Jaguar, as she refers to herself in poems to Lilly, who goes by the pet name Aimée. It's the last few months of the war, and Berlin is under siege from Allied bombings. Felice, who passes as gentile and works for a Nazi newspaper, sees Lilly at the opera. Lilly's husband is stationed on the eastern front, and she's raising four boys alone.
Through Lilly's maid Ilse (Johanna Wokalek), the women meet and Felice is smitten.
It seems odd that the exuberant, danger-seeking Felice would fall for the conventional Lilly, but passionate love and logic rarely share the same bed, and the two come together. However, Felice doesn't initially reveal her Jewish identity to Lilly, an exemplary Nazi who's been awarded a bronze Mother Cross by the party for giving birth to her sons.
The film works better if you're familiar with the story. First-time director Max Färberböck has the difficult task of bringing together a love story and a wartime drama, and he falters at times, leaving us slightly confused at various plot points.
I was also hoping to get a deeper understanding of the women's relationship, but Färberböck keeps us at arm's length.
You get the feeling that his fear of sensationalizing the affair has undermined the story -- he focuses more on the secrecy that keeps the women apart than on the erotic passion that draws them together.
However, there are marvellous moments, the best being the women's first sexual encounter. Lilly literally shakes the bed with her trembling, overcome by desire and fear.
It's beautiful and heartbreaking, and blows away the Penthouse-inspired lesbian coupling so often presented in the media.
Both actors struggle with their challenging roles; it's Köhler who makes the most of the more difficult part.
Unlike the radiant, heroic Felice, Lilly shies away from the spotlight and is a mass of contradictions -- a conservative married woman who doesn't think twice about accepting her newfound lesbian status.
Aimée & Jaguar stands as a wonderful lesbian love story and a much-needed addition to the lesbian film library.
Yet this film had a chance to transcend the lesbian angle to give viewers a deeper understanding of the wartime German psyche, and it just doesn't deliver.