2 min

Stranger than fiction

True-life Jewish & Nazi love affair

ACHTUNG, BABY. Maria Schrader as Felice, a Jewish lesbian and member of the underground resistance in World War II Germany. Credit: Xtra files

Watching Max Färberböck’s Aimée And Jaguar pretty much elicits the same response from everyone: It’s really weird to watch a Jew and a Nazi sympathizer become lesbian lovers during the Second World War.

The entire film is organized to keep the audience off balance.

This ploy proves extremely effective, providing a real sense of the lunacy of trying to build a life in wartime, while cities and societies are crumbling about one’s ears.

Based on a true story, Aimée And Jaguar documents the tender and torrid love affair between Lilly (played by Juliane Köhler), a bourgeois Nazi housewife, and Felice (Maria Schrader), a Jew living in the underground and working for a Nazi newspaper in order to funnel information to the resistance. (Lilly, now 86, still lives in Berlin.)

Färberböck carefully establishes the lives of his characters in the film’s first half so that by the time the women embark on their relationship, the clash of lifestyles and the precariousness of the relationship are palpable.

A reversal of expectations only adds to the ever-shifting ground.

Despite living in constant fear of state-sanctioned violence and persecution, Felice is generally cheerful and entertains much hope for the future. Seeing a close friend shot in the street and witnessing first-hand her co-workers’ shocking hatred for all things Jewish only inspires her hopes for an end to the war and a better future.

It is Lilly, the proper Aryan wife and mother of four, with her husband off at war fighting for the glory of the Third Reich, who is despondent. Unhappy in her marriage and unable to satisfy herself with her several lovers, she discovers the love she has always sought out in Felice. But Felice’s secretive ways – disappearing for days at a time to help others escape the Nazis – drive Lilly to despair.

Eventually, Felice risks everything – her life included – and tells Lilly that she is Jewish. This marks the film’s emotional peak, as we wonder whether Lilly will betray her lover or continue to love her – Lilly has, after all, let her own views of Jews be known, claiming that she can “smell them.”

This moment also underlines the great paradox of the Nazi anti-Semitic rage: While spewing rage and blaming Jews for everything, from the bombing of Berlin to food shortages, they are perfectly well aware that Jews are just people, neither more nor less.

This is the great oddity of German history, and will always deserve more exploration. Aimée And Jaguar presents us with a particularly elegant telling of one such journey.

Aimée And Jaguar (in German with English subtitles) opens Fri, Jan 19 at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland St; 699-5971) and the Bayview Village (Bayview Shopping Centre; 222-5495).