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Berlin 1943/44 ("The Battle of Berlin"). Felice, an intelligent and courageous Jewish woman who lives under a false name, belongs to an underground organization. Lilly, a devoted mother of four, though an occasional unfaithful wife, is desperate for love. An unusual and passionate love between them blossoms despite the danger of persecution and nightly bombing raids. Written by
L.H. Wong <email@example.com>
I wasn't expecting much from "Aimee and Jaguar," mainly because my satellite delivery company gave it a rating of only two stars out of four, usually reserved for semi-junk like Batman sequels. But that rating was deceptively low. This is a well-done and even fascinating flick. There are three chief reasons for my saying this.
First is the reconstruction of the period -- 1944 in Berlin. By that time the war was lost for Germany and everyone seemed to know it except the German citizens. Voices on the radio keep muttering on about how unconquerable the Germans are, but evidence to the contrary is all around. Berlin is bombed and blasted, areas reduced to piles of flaming rubbish. Food is difficult to come by. There is gaiety at parties but it is tense and forced. People have no place to live, except for whatever few feet they can cadge off someone else or pay exorbitantly for.
For the few Jews, blending in with the rest, the situation is more than simply desperate. Asked for their papers on the street they try to run and are shot dead. But there isn't anything in the way of self pity here. These women -- they seem to be exclusively females -- are pretty tough and pragmatic cookies. They dance, when they must, with power brokers while the band performs bravely on stage or a samba plays on a scratchy old record. (The prop master deserved an Iron Cross.) Makeup is outstanding as well. Hair is marcelled to a turn, lips are blushed, eyes are heavily kohled. I know I'm getting these words all wrong but you know what I mean. The perfomers don't look as if they were in contemporary makeup and garb with merely a nod to period fashions. The authenticity is such that they look almost alien to our eyes. Gee, and it was only fifty years ago too. Where does the time go?
Second, there is the acting. Well, in a word, it's simply fine, all around. Felice is a beautiful, dark-haired young Jewish woman. Actually, she fits a common German physical template very well, with her thin upturned nose, pointed chin, wide-set glistening eyes, and a pair of those eyebrows that seem to arch up onto the owner's forehead like V-2 rockets instead of hovering placidly over her orbital sockets where they belong. For an unusually good example of what I mean, take a look at Jon Voight's girl friend in "The Odessa File." Felice's German appearance however doesn't detract from the character's believability. German Jews by that time were pretty well assimilated, biologically and culturally, one of the reasons their attempted extermination came as such a shock to them, and to everyone else.
Felice is surrounded by friends who seem to be mainly lesbians, as carefree as the real circumstances permit. Lilly Wust, the woman Felice meets and begins by exploiting, is an equally fine actress. In fact, she really is very good, with her reticence and her frozen empty smile. Lilly is married, but her husband is away at the front most of the time, and she is almost crushed by fear and loneliness. At first, when Felice comes on to her, after their friendship has matured, she beats frantically at Felice's face and chest. Later, yielding to her needs, Lilly goes to bed with Felice, who makes gentle love to her and suggests that Lilly be "Aimee" while she, Felice, be called "Jaguar." I must say that this scene, which is no more erotic than it should be, is a tour de force on the part of the actress playing Lilly. I've rarely seen such a complex of emotions -- fright, awe, sexual desire, loneliness, and love -- projected with such impact. Lilly trembles all over in a kind of Jungian flooding out until, her instinctive repressions overcome, she grasps Felice and buries Felice's face against her breasts. Lilly's husband, Gunter, is a reasonably nice guy too. He comes home to visit his wife and children at every opportunity, even taking French leave from his unit to help Lilly celebrate her birthday. Alas he stumbles into the aftermath of a homosexual saturnalia.
The third element of this film that I find so impressive is the story itself, which I've kind of limned in above and won't go into in any detail. Let's just say that it has everything in it that you might expect in a movie designed for grown-ups. I can imagine a group of teenagers sitting around with popcorn and beer and complaining that, "Hey, this thing has SUBTITLES." And "Why can't we see more of her boobs?" (I kind of sympathize, there.) And, "Why does she get shot off screen so we can't see her brains blown out?" I don't think they'd get through the first five minutes, let alone the whole movie, but if you do, you will find your efforts rewarded.
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