A FILM ABOUT THE extremes of love and fear set against the biggest crime of the 20th century might sound like garish blockbuster material, but Aimée and Jaguar takes an intelligent, non-Hollywood approach to WWII. This tale of two women who fall in love while in a doomed 1943 Germany is a gripping, non-formulaic must-see for history buffs and lesbians alike. The film's design, editing, script tension, compelling characters, and amazingly vulnerable actors all combine to help create this vivid taste of what it might have been like to live in wartime Berlin; they also illustrate that life's ambiguities exist even in the starkest of political landscapes.

In this finely made, well-photographed film, first-time director Max Färberböck depicts how in any society, people's lives and sentiments aren't necessarily clear or categorizable. He depicts the ways in which many ordinary Germans did not possess seething hatred for the Jews, and how both Christians and hidden-identity Jews in wartime Berlin formed alliances in black-market pornography and other weird underground networks that both defied and imitated the Nazi culture's larger order.

But at its core, this story, based on the 1994 biography of Lily Wust by German writer Erica Fischer, is mostly about love. An upper-middle-class German housewife, Lily Wust (Juliane Kohler) discovers passion of a metier beyond her dreams after meeting the large-eyed Felice Schragenhiem (Maria Schrader), a Jew who, for a time, successfully maintains a false identity, eluding the SS. Witty, beautiful, and cunning, Felice works for a Nazi newspaper during the day, and frequents clubs and fêtes with demimonde Berliners by night. But the pair's happiness, made wilder by the raging military battle encircling the city, can't last.

Aimée and Jaguar doesn't have much sex, but what there is of it is charged with protracted emotional intensity that helps make the film's ending truly heartrending. See it for this, or even for Felice's terse, understated remark after buying black-market food coupons from a German who knows she's Jewish: "We live in interesting times."