Aimée  & Jaguar

            AIMÉE& JAGUAR is one of those film stories that audiences might not believe if it had
    come from the pen of a screenwriter. Because it is based on fact, however, it is all the more
    compelling. In 1943, Felice Schragenheim, an openly lesbian member of the Jewish
    underground, fell in love with Lily Wurst, a mother of four whose Nazi soldier husband was
    serving on the front lines. Almost 50 years later, the real-life Lily recounted her tale to writer
    Erica Fischer in part to create a memorial to Felice. The resultant 1994 book
    -- the couple's pet names for one another -- became a bestseller and the basis for this well-acted,
    beautifully photographed film.

            In turning this unlikely love story into a movie, director Max Färberböck (in his feature film
    debut) and co-writer Rona Munro have tread carefully the fine line between taking dramatic
    license and remaining faithful to the spirit of the drama. The film, of course, would only succeed
    with the right pairing of actresses and Färberböck found two supremely gifted women to embody
    the title characters: Maria Schrader as Felice and Juliane Köhler as Lily.

            The screenwriters also opted to use a framing device for the story. In contemporary Berlin,
    the octogenarian Lily (Inge Keller) is leaving her apartment for a life at a retirement home. When
    she arrives at her destination, she panics -- until she recognizes Ilse (Kyra Mladeck), her
    children's nanny and Felice's one-time lover. The film then flashes back five decades to the
    war years.

            At the height of the war, Berlin is constantly under attack by Allied forces. Bombs drop
    nightly and the destruction is rampant. Felice is working undercover at a Nazi newspaper yet
    seems to enjoy taking all sorts of risks. She and her coterie of friends Ilse (now played by
    Johanna Wokalek), Klarchen (Heike Makatsch) and Lotte (Elisabeth Degen), smuggle papers
    that would allow Jews to leave the country, deal with black marketers and pose for racy
    postcards to be sent to German soldiers on the front. Life is full of dangers, however, as at
    any moment their identities may be discovered. Felice appears to thrive on that hint of danger
    but she is also powerless to protect those she loves. (She watches as her beloved grandmother
    is taken away by the Gestapo.)

            With her husband at the front, Lily passes her days looking after her children or engaging
    in meaningless affairs with soldiers, including a general. At the symphony, Felice and Ilse spy
    Lily with her latest beau and immediately Felice is intrigued. Setting out to seduce Lily, she
    begins to send letters signed "Jaguar." (Lily, of course, assumes them to be from a male
    admirer.) When Lily finally meets Felice and Ilse's other friends, she is intrigued. These are
    cosmopolitan women with a freedom she finds missing from her life. With the bombs raining
    down nightly and an overall sense of foreboding, Felice begins to court Lily in earnest and
    Lily, to her own surprise, responds. The women embark on a passionate affair that is further
    complicated when Lily's husband discovers their relationship (Lily demands a divorce) and
    later when Felice confesses she is Jewish.

           Färberböck has an eye for detail and he knows how to frame a scene. He also is an actor's
    director and the performances reflect this -- there is not a false note in any of them. Juliane Köhler
    does an amazing job as Lily, delineating the character's growth from a dreamily flighty housewife
    to a passionate, committed lover. On occasion, she resembles Mia Farrow, and like Farrow
    projects an ethereal quality that belies a spine of steel. She is equally matched by Maria
    Schrader in the difficult role of Felice. Schrader skillfully portrays Felice's adventurous spirit
    as well as captures her vulnerability.

            The technical work on the film is also impressive especially the excellent cinematography
    by Tony Imi, the appropriate period costumes designed by Barbara Baum, and the detailed
    settings crafted by Albrecht Konrad and Uli Hanisch.

                                                        Rating:                       B        
                                                        MPAA Rating:           NONE
                                                        Running Time:          125 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.