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'Aimee and Jaguar'

Romp through the Regime

Friday, October 27, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

When truth is stranger than fiction, it doesn't always prove convincing as a story. Usually, such a tale trumpets its factual basis because no one would believe it otherwise.

'Aimee And Jaguar'


STARRING: Maria Schrader, Juliane Kohler.

DIRECTOR: Max Farberbock.


CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars.


The German film "Aimee and Jaguar," now at the Squirrel Hill Theater, is based on a nonfiction book by Erica Fisher. It tells the story of Lilly Wust (Juliane Kohler), who in 1943 was a good German housewife given a medal by the Nazis for bearing four children. Her husband was a soldier fighting for the Reich. During his absences, she dallied with other men.

And then she met Felice (Maria Schrader), a Jew trying to evade the Gestapo. Yet she worked under an assumed identity at a Nazi newspaper. She also joined the Resistance, taking almost foolhardy chances to smuggle people and information out of the country.

Oh, and Felice was a lesbian. She fell madly in love with Lilly -- and vice versa.

See, I said you wouldn't believe it. But it's all true. Lilly Wust is now 86 years old and lives in Berlin.

First-time feature director Max Farberbock, who wrote the screenplay with Rona Munro, invests the film with a florid romanticism that only adds to the movie's overheated passion.

Even his depiction of the bombing of Berlin looks almost mythic, with outsized stone carvings symbolic of the Reich standing out against the smoky sky as the Allied planes fly in with their deadly cargo.

Felice, who signed herself as Jaguar in her love letters to Lilly (whom she called Aimee), also seems much larger than life. She has too many strikes against her from the Nazi point of view -- Jew, lesbian, Resistance member -- to be so reckless, although there is an adage about war having a way of making you feel most alive.

But none of the characters is quite such a piece of work as Lilly, whose needs seem insatiable. The woman is positively frenetic, a bundle of nervous energy and pent-up frustrations that manifest themselves in yelling at the children, taking on illicit lovers and fluttering around like a butterfly on speed. She is pretty and yet somehow ungainly in her frumpy clothes, blond hair and eyeglasses.

Kohler often plays her on the edge of hysteria, and I'm not sure if it's great acting or a character out of control. Schrader plays Felice like a fox who is too sly for her own good -- and knows it. The fact that they are such an unlikely pair is just what makes them interesting.

And yet, despite some tragic moments, "Aimee and Jaguar" has a bit too much of an air of frivolity about it. The scenes in which Felice and her lesbian friends let it all hang out at Lilly's place seem incongruous against the backdrop of the war and the evil of the Nazi regime.

Farberbock has said that he wanted to show the people of Berlin during the war as living beings, not as historical shells. But the movie's penchant for overstatement works against him. "Aimee and Jaguar" tells a real story but comes off nonetheless as an odd curiosity.

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