The personal, political and sexual underpinnings of Max Farberbock's feature debut "Aimee & Jaguar" are endlessly fascinating and shrewdly realized.
The opening film of the 49th Berlin Film Festival is most effective in miniature, capturing the emotional complexities of the relationship between two women in Nazi Germany. But it loses focus when the director attempts to bind their story to a larger context.
A curious amalgam of the 1930s films of Josef von Sternberg (in its sexual flamboyance) and the 1940s work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
(in the stylized air raids that recall such films as "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing"), the film charts the astonishing true story of the quietly tragic love affair of Felice Schragenheim and Lilly Wust
during a furious wartime stretch in late 1943 and early 1944.
Adapted from a book by journalist Erica Fischer
, Farberbock traces the deep erotic attraction between the women. What transforms their story into something more remarkable is their contrasting position in German society.
Dark, feral Felice (Maria Schrader
), code named Jaguar, is a Jewish freedom fighter working in the underground, providing Allied intelligence officials with Nazi codes.
Blond, angular Lilly (Juliane Kohler), called Aimee, is her opposite, the bourgeois wife of a prominent Nazi officer.
On New Year's Eve, while her husband (Detlev Buck
) is diverted by the amorous attentions of another woman, Lilly surrenders to the sexually aggressive Felice, setting in motion their all-consuming sexual relationship.
The film is best at dramatizing not simply the taboos their relationship encounters but the deep affection they share. A sense of power and ecstasy is evident in their spontaneity and flow of movement as they desperately seek moments of truth and beauty during a frightening time.
Farberbock, whose first three films were done for German television, is alert to the gradations of their relationship, depicting anticipation, build-up and disruption as he catalogs the arc of their relationship.
If that were all the film was, it would qualify as a small but compelling work. Unfortunately, the larger worldly issues governing the relationship take over and the movie loses its balance as Farberbock finds himself unable to deepen his control over his material.
The focus on the intensity of the women's relationship shifts to one on the cruelty of human nature, specifically the heavy-handed actions of the Nazis. This places the work in a straitjacket.
The events of the script, by Farberbock and Rona Munro
, impose an iron grip on a work that was free and unpredictable. Whether a function of the limited budget or Farberbock's inexperience, the scenes outside the relationship lack drive and power.
The film is technically impressive. The burnished color of Tony Imi
's cinematography and Mathias Schwerbrock
's production design contribute to the picture's sense of a dark, troubled past.
The beautiful, self-contained Schrader has a commanding presence as Jaguar; Kohler is bold in the more difficult part of Aimee.
AIMEE & JAGUAR
A Max Farberbock film
Producers: Gunter Rohrbach, Hanno Huth
Director-screenwriter: Max Farberbock
Screenwriter: Rona Munro
Based on the book by: Erica Fischer
Director of photography: Tony Imi
Editor: Barbara Hennings
Production designer: Mathias Schwerbrock
Costume: Barbara Baum
Music: Gerlinde Kunz
, Gerhard Nemetz
, Horst Allert
Felice ("Jaguar"): Maria Schrader
Lilly ("Aimee"): Juliane Kohler
Ilse: Johanna Wokalek
Klarchen: Heike Makatsch
Lotte: Elisabeth Degen
Gunther Wust: Detlev Buck
Older Lilly: Inge Keller
Older Ilse: Kyra Mladeck
Running time -- 131 minutes
No MPAA rating