Knowing that Aimée & Jaguar is based on a true story goes a long way in explaining its existence. All the subject matter here has been covered in numerous films (such as The Conformist), yet it’s the mix of already familiar elements which makes this film distinctive. In the story of a passionate love affair begun by two women in Berlin during the final years of World War II, this film strives to shatter stereotypes of Germans goose-stepping to Hitler’s agenda.
Lilly Wust (Juliane Köhler) appears to be the model of Third Reich motherhood, watching over her four young sons while her husband fights on the Eastern Front. Her housekeeper, Ilse (Johanna Wokalek), sees the truth, observing Lilly’s succession of soldier lovers with distaste. Ilse serves as the reluctant link between Lilly and Felice Schragenheim (Maria Schrader), whose inherent charisma makes her seem larger than life.
Felice is expert at duplicity. Instead of hiding, this Jewish woman works at a Nazi newspaper while simultaneously gathering information for the resistance. She is also a born seductress whose mere presence seems to embolden the lesbian underground. When Felice falls for Lilly, it shakes everyone’s expectations. (Always one for self-invention, Felice declares they are now Jaguar and Aimée, new names for a new life.)
Director Max Färberböck, who co-wrote the script with Rona Munro, does an excellent job of demonstrating both the ever-present danger and the routine nature of a city during wartime. There’s a crushing reality which cannot be escaped, yet that’s precisely what everyone tries to do, to find those moments of respite, of normal pleasures, which remind them of life without bombs and persecution.
The performances are uniformly fine, but the revelation is Schrader. Having made a career playing uncertain women, her Felice is a force of nature so powerful that she seems a direct challenge to the Führer himself. The tragedy of Aimée & Jaguar is that she remains all too human.
Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
E-mail Serena Donadoni at [email protected].