11 July 2001 | Geofbob
A true work of art
This wonderful German production, based on fact, tells the story of a lesbian love affair at the height of the war in Berlin, between a Jewish woman concealing her identity from the authorities and a loyal German mother of four whose husband is serving in the army. But the film is exceptional not just for its frankness in presenting the passionate relationship, but for its portrayal of Berliners trying to lead ordinary lives, while their city is under heavy bombardment and is being destroyed before their eyes. And this near-normal background throws into sharp relief the ghastly horror of the Nazi regime, its vain pursuit of total victory, and its fanatical hatred and persecution of Jews.
The acting of principals Maria Schrader as Felice Schragenheim (Jaguar) and Juliane Köhler as Lilly Wust (Aimée) has an integrity and intensity which has almost disappeared from Hollywood, but it never lapses into melodrama. Outstanding in the large supporting cast are Johanna Wokalek as Ilse, a rival with Aimée for Jaguar's love; and Detlev Buck as Aimée's husband, Günther, who manages to elicit our sympathy for his personal predicament, while repelling us with his Nazi arrogance and cloddishness.
A notable feature of the movie is that it reminds us that, like London and Paris, wartime Berlin still had a thriving nightlife, with Beethoven concerts, well dressed women and officers drinking in luxury hotel lounges, and smart receptions. Jaguar and her friends also represent a bohemian fringe of society, dating back to the Weimar period of the 20s and early 30s, that had not been extinguished by the Nazis. These scenes give the film colour and style, features sometimes missing from movies set in time of war.
This is one of those very rare movies in which not only every element - scenario, acting, camerawork, effects, interior and exterior locations, music etc - is almost perfect in itself, but in which they add up to a true work of art. If you have a chance, see it!