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Lesbian Movie Aimee & Jaguar

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Opposites attract, according to conventional wisdom and movie mythology, though platitudes are inadequate to explain why Felice Schragenheim (Maria Schrader), a Jew living undercover in Nazi Berlin, would fall in love with Lilly Wust (Juliane Kohler), an Aryan poster girl married to a German officer and the mother of four strapping blond boys.

And yet, she did. ''Aimee and Jaguar'' -- the title comes from the nicknames the lovers give each other -- is based on a true story as recounted in a 1994 book by Erica Fischer. Although Ms. Schragenheim is believed to have died in a forced march from a Nazi camp, Ms. Wust is 86 and still lives in Berlin.

The fascination of such a story is understandable -- how powerful their feelings for each other must have been to overcome the gulf that separated deadly enemies at the height of wartime, much less to overcome class differences (Ms. Schragenheim was a bohemian writer, Ms. Wust a happy hausfrau) and the powerful prejudices against same-sex unions then in force. Surely there is something heroic about love on so grand and risky a scale.

And yet, there is surprisingly little emotional amplitude in the film that the German television director Max Farberbock has fashioned from Ms. Fischer's book. Neither of the principal characters acquires the depth to support feelings any more profound than a schoolgirl crush, and Mr. Farberbock's reconstruction of Berlin under the Allied bombing campaign never moves beyond a back-lot artificiality.

Much of ''Aimee and Jaguar'' relies on the dramatic and visual conventions of another era -- that of the Weimar Republic, as represented in films like G. W. Pabst's ''Pandora's Box'' (whose star, Louise Brooks, bears a passing resemblance to Ms. Schrader's Felice) and Josef von Sternberg's ''Blue Angel'' (with Ms. Kohler's Lilly echoing Marlene Dietrich's blond wave and dangling cigarette). Once again, Mr. Farberbock (who with Rona Munro also wrote the screenplay) trots out the cinematic vocabulary of decadence: women wearing tuxedos, smoky nightclubs filled with couples of ambiguous gender, pudgy capitalists pulling on cigars (though the last have become German officers), a general excess of eye makeup.

It's a shame that Mr. Farberbock has chosen to remain so resolutely on the surface of his material, since there is a great deal going on between the characters that a little digging might have brought out. The film subscribes to the familiar and convenient notion that love conquers all, yet what we see of Felice's long courtship of Lilly suggests that love was the last thing on her mind. Seduction, and particularly, the seduction of a figure so closely tied to Nazi ideology (the fertile earth mother and home-front warrior), was what mattered most to Felice, at least initially. Here is a notion of sex as revenge, if not outright warfare, that the film might have profitably explored.

Instead, ''Aimee and Jaguar,'' which opens today at the Quad, quickly turns pastoral and romantic (no mean feat for a film set in wartime Berlin, but there always seem to be limpid ponds and verdant dales within commuting distance). There is much gamboling amid the glories of nature, images of a squeaky-clean outdoor sexuality that recall the work of the photographer Bruce Weber.

It's upon their return from one such frolic, to the flat they have been sharing in the city, that the women discover the Gestapo waiting for them. Mr. Farberbock, to his credit, does not exploit the usual Holocaust imagery. There is no scene set in the camp to which Felice has been sent; instead, in the film's one genuinely cinematic moment, Lilly recounts her disastrous attempt to visit Felice during a conversation in a cafe, leaving the viewer to visualize the horror of the moment.

Ms. Schrader and Ms. Kohler shared the prize for best actress at the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival, and their work is indeed highly professional. Ms. Schrader, in particular, brings just enough of a hint of hysteria to her performance to redeem Felice from the plaster saintliness that Mr. Farberbock has thrust upon her.


Directed by Max Farberbock; written (in German, with English subtitles) by Mr. Farberbock and Rona Munro, based on the book by Erica Fischer; director of photography, Tony Imi; edited by Barbara Hennings; music by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek; produced by Gunter Rohrbach and Hanno Huth; released by Zeitgeist Films. At the Quad Cinema, 13th Street, west of Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village. Running time: 125 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Maria Schrader (Felice Schragenheim/Jaguar), Juliane Kohler (Lilly Wust/ Aimee), Johanna Wokalek (Ilse), Heike Makatsch (Klarchen) and Elisabeth Degen (Lotte).

Format: German: Dolby Digital 5.1

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