Max Färberböck’s adaptation of Erica Fischer’s book ‘Aimée & Jaguar’ seems to be a conceptual film adaptation which means that the core of the story remained more or less the same although there are some significant changes in certain aspects of the original story. The film director focused more on the relationship between two lesbian females as such, satisfying more his own private male fantasies regarding such a relationship (see especially the passionate, almost pornographic film scene from the 62nd to the 65th minute of the film!) than translating Fischer’s book about the German woman named Lilly (Elisabeth Wust, with nickname Aimée) and the Jewish woman named Felice Schragenheim (with the nickname Jaguar) into the film medium. Thus, he excluded many elements from the book and revealed that his inventions in the film had the aim to reduce the tragic dimension of the Jewish journalist’s fate and to build a partly problematic sentimental end of the film with the German heroine confessing 1997 in the manner of a documentary film style that after Felice she did not have any lovers – contrary to the fact from Fischer’s book about her second marriage after the war.
The director excluded rightly some elements from Fischer’s book that show inconsistency and miss the chance to balance the German housewife’s one-sided views on the whole love affair. One of the biggest problems remains the dilemma that Ms. Elenai Predski-Kramer, a witness of the time, Ms. Esther Dischereit and Ms. Katharina Sperber have been referring to: Is Lilly (Aimée) to be praised as a heroine for harboring a Jewish friend from the Nazis or is she rather to blame for possible handling her lover indirectly to the Gestapo (nobody knows who gave the Nazi police Felice’s photo) and then sending her indirectly to death after visiting her in the concentration camp Theresienstadt in September 1944? Supposedly, Lilly wanted to know whether Felice was unfaithful to her there in the concentration camp and possibly wanted indirectly to prevent others from becoming Felice’s lovers? Was not this visit (to bring her warm clothes) more an expression of narcissism than of wisdom and readiness to save the lover’s life – especially if one knew that such visits regularly resulted in quicker executions. Could we also put the question whether Lilly’s final conversion to Judaism and the ‘reeducation’ of her sons as Jews in the post-war Germany could be interpreted as signals of guilty conscience, as a try to compensate for her own wrong deeds and Nazi beliefs (even the conviction to be able to smell Jews!). After living with Hitler’s bust during the war, she decided to put a menorah in her apartment and to wear the yellow David star when being confronted with the Soviet liberation/occupation forces – which her lover Felice actually never wanted to wear! Or was Lilly’s whole behavior an expression of the simple survival drive and the need to accommodate to the respective political situations changing in the course of history?
One of the most embarrassing circumstances in the so called love story is the fact is that Felice signed a deed of gift on July 28, 1944 and thus bequeathed the rest of her whole property to Lilly. But was it out of love or out of fear of betrayal? Already on August 21, 1944 – after bathing together in the Havel River and making photos – Felice was arrested by the Gestapo in Lilly’s apartment. Her life ended on December 31, 1944 in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. The film remains silent on the fact that Lilly was not punished severely by the Gestapo for harboring a Jew in the time when the hunt on still hiding Jews became more fanatic the more desperate the war situation grew, and Jews were to blame for every bomb that fell on Germany. Moreover, some witness claimed that after Felice’s arrest Lilly went to take all Felice’s belongings (furniture, best silver, jewelry, fur) in accordance to the signed deed of gift. Was then greed a motif for the indirect betrayal? Or was the actual motif made of many conscious and unconscious emotional elements?
Nevertheless, Felice’s death eliminated the possibility of looking at the whole personal history from another view point, so there is no possibility to shed an alternative light onto the concrete case. Does the film then portray a misinterpreted history with the case of lesbianism as a ‘charm’ of preventing due criticism and satisfying voyeuristic needs and possibly the leftists’ ideology making to believe that lesbianism was kind of resistance against the Nazis, whereas only the male homosexuality was an actual subject to punishment according to the notorious paragraph 175? On the other hand, how could this film be interpreted as a possible defense of lesbianism if the director changed the text of the original story turning Lilly’s husband into a German soldier who returns home without previous notice and finds his wife with her lesbian lover in bed, then smashes their car in outrage, makes comments on his wife’s homosexuality and demands a divorce. The film director rewrote Fischer’s book creating partly sympathy for the poor, exhausted German soldier coming back from the front and raging after being removed from his family nest. Is lesbianism here kind of portrayed as high treason of German military interests, as a stab in the back? Is the Jewish lesbian Felice in the film slightly but noticeably portrayed as a destroyer of the healthy German family, as a sick, intruding factor of converting the sexual orientation of a German housewife and mother of four boys by infernal seduction and bodily manipulation? The director stressed and exaggerated in his film Lilly’s initial aversion to the lesbian kiss. Whereas the scene in the book contains Lilly’s outrage with Felice remaining in the apartment, the film scene contains Lilly’s nervous break down and her hitting Felice who leaves the apartment!
Is the film a nice cover up story proving that there is no justice for dead victims – offering the chance of showing perpetrators, Hitler’s supporters, as partly ‘good guys’ at the same time? Färberböcks film seems to be as well an expression of the German need to make a more humane image of the Germans during the Holocaust. In other words, not all Germans would be monsters during the WW2. Besides, they suffered massive bombing terrorism against civilian population and against declared open cities. On the very beginning of the film the night sky above Berlin is full of bombers and bombs destroying even 5000 apartments in one night of bombing. However, this sad fact should be seen on the background of the truth that the fire the Germans opened against the attacked states, their citizens and their possessions returned as a boomerang with exaggerated mercilessness and hatred of even innocent German victims who ambivalently still believed in the wonder weapon to conquer the world and still proudly sang the national anthem ‘Germany above all’, at least on the radio.
Is this film really a true love story? Or is it a mixture of passion and a drive to survive in a bizarre context with quite liberal, bisexual war morals and readiness to steal each other’s lovers and marriage partners, a case of a love extremely challenging the fate? Is it at the same time a kind of spiritual misalliance between a narrow-minded housewife and a charming, cosmopolitan girl that could not have lasted long in peacetime anyway? The best proof for assumption about this incompatibility could be the scene of celebrating Lilly’s birthday with dance: Lilly wears her petty bourgeois blue dress, while Felice wears tail coat and top hat. Is the whole story further an example of unrequited love or of pretended love with the mask of passion? Is the film, to the contrary, about a true love prevented by horrible circumstances, a love that blindly mutually defied all reason and braved all dangers, wanting to be consummated immediately, with extreme intensity, but a love that was too weak, too exhausted to achieve a potential happy ending? No final, clear answers could be given to these many questions – for all the reasons already mentioned above. Therefore, let us allow the possibility that the film version of the ambivalent love story really is a monument of human greatness and heroism of the German housewife Elisabeth Wust despite her human flaws. For a period of time she managed to save the life of the Jewish journalist Felice who would have not been killed in the Holocaust if she had escaped timely together with some of her friends and resistance members who survived the war. Unfortunately, Felice was somehow tragically blinded by her subversive love, by her jaguar-like hunt on the unhappy, simple-minded, petty bourgeois married woman.