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With: Maria Schrader, Juliane Köhler, Johanna Wokalek, Heike Makatsch, Elisabeth Degen, Detlev Buck, Inge Keller, Kyra Mladeck, Sarah Camp, Klaus Manchen, Margit Bendokat, Jochen Stern, Peter Weck, Lia Dultzkaya, Dani Levy
Written by: Max Färberböck, Rona Munro, based on a book by Erica Fischer
Directed by: Max Färberböck
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: German, with English subtitles
Running Time: 125
Date: 02/10/1999
IMDB

Aimee & Jaguar (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Empty Love Letters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

First time director Max Farberbock takes on the best-selling book Aimee & Jaguar by Erica Fischer, a true story about a lesbian romance in Germany during World War II. Farberbock has said in interviews that he was at first unsure of the material, and that it would have been better suited to someone like the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder. After viewing Aimee & Jaguar myself, I'm sad to report that Farberbock's first impression was right.

Aimee & Jaguar starts off well enough, establishing a flirty little band of friends who actually seem like friends and not just caricatures and stereotypes thrown together for easy chemistry. Jaguar, also known as Felice (Maria Schrader) is a lesbian and a closeted Jew. She falls for Lilly Wust (Juliane Kohler), a blonde German with kids and a husband at the front lines. The movie floats dreamily while their relationship is being established and the two women begin courting. One astonishing scene has Felice seducing Lilly for the first time; Lilly trembling uncontrollably, nearly unable to breathe. But once their love affair gets going, Farberbock resorts to the usual shots of the girls running hand-in-hand through the woods and laughing with musical accompaniment. He then adds the "weight of the war" passages in which we learn that war is hell.

The movie reminded me of another similar movie called East-West, also a wartime tale and also a true story. Both movies rush over the surface of their stories, condensing years into two hours, and thus never getting to the core of their story. We hear Lilly and Felice writing love letters to each other (with voiceovers reading them to us) but we never feel anything for them. We lose patience when Felice has a chance to escape Germany but stays behind to be with Lilly. Her decision is made in the space of two scenes, and no real weight is given to it.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Whity, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) was a highly emotional director (and a homosexual) who, had he directed Aimee & Jaguar, would have ignored the World War II cliches entirely and burrowed to the core of the relationship. He also would not have given as much weight to the secondary characters who as it is end up becoming nothing but props. As it stands, Farberbock's main concern seems to be sticking to the source material, which is always a rookie mistake. Condensing a novel hardly ever leaves us with its essence; it just becomes a Cliff's notes version, without the passion or the purpose.

The production is handsome and deals with weighty issues, and the acting is fine. That will be enough for most critics to praise Aimee & Jaguar. And even though lesbian stories are rare in movies, and I'd like to be able to recommend it, it just doesn't offer anything I haven't seen before. The relationship between Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in Bound (1996) was meatier than this, and that was a "B" crime movie. With such an interesting story at its core, Aimee & Jaguar should have been something more.

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