Aimee and Jaguar

Watching Aimee and Jaguar is like having your eyes anxiously affixed on a cracked mirror on the wall, delicately held together, yet on the brink of violently shattering to the ground. It’s a timeless love story, except this time boy does not meet girl. The fact that the two lead characters are lesbians in 1940s society, however, is not the main source of conflict. The tragedy is that the two women are on opposites sides of war-torn Berlin.

Set against the backdrop of falling bombs, exploding missiles – Germany 1943, the Battle of Britain – Felice Schragenheim (Maria Schrader) walks into the life of Lilly Wust (Juliane Kohler). Felice (or ‘Jaguar’ as she becomes known by her lover) is an independent, determined Jewish woman living under false pretences who earns a living as an undercover journalist working for a Nazi newspaper. Lilly (‘Aimee’) is married to a Nazi soldier and the mother of four.

For Felice, it was love at first sight. She meets Lilly through her long time lover Ilse, who is a nanny for Mrs. Wust while her husband is away fighting at the front. Lilly is supportive of the war, so loyal to the cause that she keeps other German soldiers company in her husband’s absence. But her furtive liaisons soon end as she is eased into the arms of Felice, seduced by poetic love letters.

A tender-hearted, fragile and naive creature, once Lilly turns her head to Felice there is no going back. The two characters couldn’t be more different, yet it is their contrasting personalities that bind them even closer. Their romance becomes a distraction from the war and their preoccupation with daily survival. They become enraptured with one another and spend their evenings dancing to war-time music, playing cards and mixing in the company of Felice’s eccentric lesbian friends.

The nights seem carefree but underlying tensions grow. Felice’s Jewish friends are gathered up and urged to flee. Felice stays behind but spends most of her time in hiding away from Lilly, who is still unaware that her lover is on the opposite side of the war. Felice’s long periods of absence perplex Lilly. She remains true to her heart until her ardor explodes in a fury. Felice’s true identity is revealed and events take their tragic course.

This is not typical of German films set in the Third Reich, laying on a heavy-handed history lesson or some superficial hokum using history as a backdrop, but a true story depicting the harshness of life on both sides of a jagged divide. It graphically shows the Nazi brutality when one of Felice’s Jewish friends is murdered in the street because she fails to provide her papers.

Maria Schrader’s performance is powerful. Without words she gives way to her suppressed grief. Knowing her family roots are being diminished, she remains stoic in order to survive. The people around her are being ripped from her life but she cannot turn back or cry out – instead she is forced to hurry along as if nothing has happened. She has to pretend she is one of them. She has to pretend she does not care. Her composure is as balanced as a glass of water full to the brim–one more tap and her repressed emotions would flood out endlessly.

The love-making scenes between the women are beautifully, passionately shot – erotic to the extent that they are painfully sensuous, appropriate in the context of this harrowing, tragic tale which is based on a true story documented in a novel of the same title by Erica Fischer.

– Rachel DeThample