Thursday, September 13, 2012

Aimee & Jaguar: Timeless and Timely

Film & Disc Review, Aimee & Jaguar
by Rusty White
reviewed: 2001-10-30 "Where love may fall, let it Flourish!" A few years back, I was at a Melissa Ethridge concert at the Mud Island Amphitheater in Memphis. It was a cool summer night. Being a people watcher, I was checking out the other concert-goers. There was the couple holding hands. Another dancing and being loud. Yet another lost in a passionate kiss fueled by wine, rock and roll and either love or lust. There was another person who gently caressed her lover's arm. I had an epiphany that night. Each of the couples I described were lesbians from Memphis out for a night of music and freedom. I say freedom, because it struck me that night that this venue was probably one of the few public places in a city like Memphis where they could express their love so openly. I thought, "How difficult it must be to love someone with every essence of your being, and yet have to deny those feelings except in protected environments for fear of ridicule, retaliation or worse." I was reminded of that evening by the film "Aimee and Jaguar." German director Max Farberbock took the true WWII love story of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim and created a passionate, erotic, tragic but ultimately life-affirming film. Lilly (Juliane Kohler) is married to Gunter Wust (Delev Buck). While Gunter is away at the Russian front, Lilly has sex with German officers to break the monotony of raising four sons in Berlin. It is decadent, passionless fornication. Lilly's maid, Ilse (Johanna Wokalek) spies Lilly one night at the opera with an officer. Ilse tells her lover, Felice (Maria Schrader) of Lilly's secret life. Felice spies Lilly through her opera glasses. Felice is the center of a group of Jewish women living in Berlin minus any yellow stars sewn into their clothes. Felice even works as secretary to the editor of the Nazi newspaper in Berlin. Ilse shows Lilly a love-letter written to her by Felice. The letter is passionate and alive. It is signed "Jaguar." Lilly is stirred by the passion that she craves but has never found, either with her husband or the countless soldiers she sleeps with. She doesn't realize that "Jaguar" is a woman. The deliberately paced movie spends an hour with introductions and the awakening in Lilly of her lesbian nature. The women do not become lovers until half way through the movie.
I really shouldn't tell any more about the plot of the film. It is wonderfully acted and photographed. The script by director Faberbock is though provoking. Felice is both a Jew and a Lesbian. Needless to say, she is at great risk in Berlin. Her character is so powerful, that all who see her want her, be they man or woman. If the real Felice was as portrayed in this film, she was a remarkable woman. Maria Schrader is amazing as Felice. Juliane Kohler is also fine as Lilly. Lilly was a vapid, air head who transformed into someone with strength. She did remain selfish though, with tragic results. I though the real Lilly brave to tell her story, even though I was mad at her for the fate that befell Felice. Ms. Kohler reminded me of Tess Harper (Tender Mercies) in both looks and acting style. Ms Kohler and Ms. Schrader have a strong chemistry together. Their love scenes are erotic and romantic.
"Aimee and Jaguar" deals with much more than lesbian love. The story of these two women is timeless in that it examines issues such as domestic violence, prejudice, love versus lust, eternal love, forgiveness, survival and selfishness. At one point in the film Lilly says, "I don't want forever, I want now. Lots of now." She tells her husband that she wants a divorce to be with Felice. She does this without even consulting with Felice. It is the epitome of selfishness in that her husband is a German soldier during war. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the danger this will bring down on Felice. Both women pay the price for this action. Felice and her friends are survivors. They hide the fact they are Jews in 1943 Berlin. They must stay in the closet as the ovens of Buchenwald lay on the other side of the door.
The movie is book-ended by scenes of the elderly Lilly. In one of the scenes she meets Ilse by chance. They reflect on Felice. Ilse is surprised to discover that Lilly never loved again. Felice is the one who got away, never to be replaced. Lilly was lucky enough to have found her pixie, only to lose her. Her loss haunts her to this day. Ilse however, was able to move on with her life. The scene tells a lot about forgiveness, especially when the one you are forgiving is yourself.
Prejudice was one of the twisted 'virtues' of the 3rd Reich. Jews, Gays, Gypses and many others all suffered the wrath of Nazism. Ironically the Nazis claimed to be a Christian group! Unfortunately this prejudice is still with us. This is one of the reasons the movie is so powerful. I took my family to Key West for Thanksgiving. As we sat on the patio of a café, a couple of teenage boys walked by across the street. My boy crazy 15 year old daughter noticed them immediately. As she was eyeing them appreciatively, the two young men began kissing. Both my daughter and 12 year old son let out cries of "yuck" loud enough for those around to hear. As a Christian family, this was not the right thing to do. I asked my kids where in the 10 Commandments it said "Thou Shall Not Be Gay." Granted, homosexuality is listed as a sin in the New Testament, but it isn't one of the big 10. I then told them that there were commandments not to lie and to honor your mother and father. I then pointed out that both of them lied to their parents on numerous occasions, and that they regularly dishonored their parents with their actions. The point was, that in God's eyes, lying and disobeying their parents was worse then kissing a member of the same sex. A sin is a sin, but some self-righteous folks seem to think that other people's sins are worse than their own. As none of us will ever be sin free on this world, we don't have the right to condemn others for their lifestyle. Unfortunately there are probably many Aimees and Jaguars still suffering because they were born loving the 'wrong' sex.

The Disc
Excellent Movie! Great picture and sound. Excellent extras. Picture Quality: 10/10
Lushly photographed movie. Cinematographer Tony Imi transports the viewer back into a cinematically romantic version of WWL. This is a realistic film, but it is so beautiful to watch. No artifacts or loss of color evident.
Sound Quality: 10/10
It is really hard to rate the sound because I don't speak german. I could hear the dialogue and the sound just fine. The home theater system reverberated during the film's several bombing scene. The decadent music sounded great as the girls celebrated New Years Eve.
Easter Eggs:
No Easter Eggs Found on Disc.
Extra Features: 8/10
The behind the scenes footage was useless to me as it was in German without subtitles.
The 12 minute interview segment with the lead actresses, the director, cinematographer and Ms. Wust were quite good. I got goose bumps when Maria Schrader talked about how she discovered one day during filming, a 1943 Berlin phone book under the phone on the set. In that book, were the names and numbers of the characters from the film. It was kind of spooky as she related the impact on her.
There is a quite detailed photo gallery of the real Aimee and Jaguar. The photos are touching and pathetic considering what happened.
The making of featurette is very short. It is well done, but if you watch it before you see the film, you will miss alot, unless you speak German.

The Final Word:

I wasn't sure what to expect from "Aimee and Jaguar." Instead of a political manifesto of lesbian rights, the movie delivers a universally beautiful and tragic story with honesty, emotion and truth. Got to plug I got this from them. Went online. Browsed the catalog. Ordered. Movies came in the mail 4 days later. Only costs $3.00 per movie. I've had them now for several days and I don't have to return it for four more days. Can't beat these folks. Wide assortment of movies. Check them out.
Rusty White
Related links:
IMDB: Aimee & Jaguar (1999)