Powerful but ambiguous 'Aimée & Jaguar' tells true story of lesbian affair during Battle of Berlin
Maybe I'm just thick, but the stirring and tragic lesbians-under-the-Third-Reich romantic tear-jerker "Aimée and Jaguar" seemed awfully vague to me about some important points.
For instance, it wasn't until I read the press kit that I realized one of the lovers -- pet name Jaguar, real name Felice, played by Maria Schrader -- was a part of the Jewish underground.
I knew she was Jewish, obviously. That's a large part of this based-on-fact film. It's clear that she's very secretive toward Aimée -- real name Lilly, played by Juliane Kohler -- the Nazi officer's housewife whom she befriended, seduced and fell in love with.
There's also no mistaking the fact that she sometimes disappears for days at a time. But the picture never makes mention of where she's going or what she's doing. Had I filled in that missing piece of the jigsaw, I think I might have been utterly absorbed by this elegant film, which paints a gorgeous but harrowing portrait of the raw nerves of Berlin under siege in 1943 and the kind of passionate, we-could-die-tomorrow desire embraced with sensual abandon by these two women.
I'm telling you this, of course, because if you have this information going in, "Aimée and Jaguar" might be for you the experience I wish it had been for me.
Other than being frustratingly dodgy and mighty confusing, most everything about this picture is exquisite. In emotionally naked and courageous performances, Schrader plays Felice with a sexy, confident Marlene Dietrich flair, and Kohler portrays Lilly's seemingly model wife demeanor in a way that masks a sorrowing sexual neediness (although I personally found her flaky, unstable and borderline bipolar).
First-time director (and co-screenwriter) Max Farberbock immerses the audience in the peril of a defeated city stubbornly soldiering on amid continuous bombing raids, which are photographed against dramatically red, heavy skies, with the outlines of bombers looming in the flashes of anti-aircraft fire.
From the smallest costume details and the curtains in Lilly's apartment to the innumerable bombed-out, burning buildings lining grey, rubble-strewn streets (juxtaposed with the well-appointed hotels where the Nazi faithful partied in lavish denial) this movie captures war-torn Berlin as vividly as "Saving Private Ryan" captured the Normandy invasion.
But even when "Aimée and Jaguar" is at its most cinematically masterful, it's still plagued by narrative ambiguities. Why is the voice-over delivered by a peripheral character? It leads one to believe she's more significant to the story than she is. Why is it never clear if Felice's saphic sorority of friends are all Jews as well or just lesbians? It's even less clear, until what is obviously a first kiss, whether or not Felice and Lilly are already lovers early in the film -- a quandary that is complicated by Lilly's frequent male lovers and by her indifference to her husband's philandering.
I wished I could have read a dossier on each of these women before the film so I could have filled in the blanks Farberbock seems to willfully ignore.
But I was so lost for so much of this movie that I can't help wondering if most of it just went over my head.
The things I understood -- that Felice's group of girlfriends was in great danger and trying to buy papers to get out of the country, that she kept her ethnicity hidden in order to hold on to a job as a secretary to a well-connected Nazi newspaper publisher -- I found utterly engrossing. There is one devastating scene in which she tries to contain her emotions while taking dictation for a scathing anti-Semitic editorial.
Yet I never caught on that she was anything more than a Jewess trying to hide her identity to avoid being herded into a ghetto, a box car, then a concentration camp.
I actively tried to get swept away by "Aimée and Jaguar" because it was so artful, so realistic and so intense. But I was so busy trying to figure out what the hell was going on that there was just no way I was going to enjoy it.
Maybe it's a sadly flawed near miss. Maybe is a great film and I'm a dummy. Maybe you should find out for yourself because I'm confused.
Where's a German- Jewish- lesbian- art- film- to- straight- Anglo- American- simpleton translation dictionary when you need one, huh?