Walk On Water

Walk On Water


Reviewed by: Mimmo

Eytan Fox's Walk On Water begins as a spy thriller, in which a Mossad agent is assigned the task of hunting down an aging Nazi, and develops into something of a film about friendship between two unlikely candidates - agent Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) and a young German tourist in Israel, Axel Himmelman (Knut Berger), the grandson of the Nazi responsible for killing Eyal's grandmother in the Holocaust.

Axel accompanies Eyal round the touristic sights of the Lake of Galilee and Jerusalem and a friendship forms, although we don't know whether Eyal is acting, or not. "Patronizing German peacenik," he tells his superiors. Do we believe him?

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Axel may be acting, too, for he seems to think that his grandfather is dead. The unlikeliness of their bond is made more pointed when Axel picks up a Palestinian man in a nightclub, a double jolt for the homophobic nationalist Eyal. After Axel returns to Berlin, Eyal pays him a surprise visit, suspecting that old Himmelman will reappear at his own home, where he can be assassinated.

Nazism, Jewish persecution of Palestinians, the ethics of the present day war on terror, the justification of the state of Israel, gayness, generational conflict and male bonding - these are all, or almost all, charged topics - a handful for a single film. The success of Walking On Water is not that it "deals" with these issues - it is not an "issue" film - but that such themes are threaded together as part of the background of the protagonists' lives, informing their perceptions and misperceptions of each other.

The two leads are absorbing on screen and play off each other brilliantly. Berger's Teutonic easy charm and big grin play well against the cool stoicism of Ashkenazi's spy. Their growing friendship and subsequent tensions are the emotional centre of the film, their relationship mined for its comic potential, in the situation comedy scenario of a Mossad agent being dragged round gay bars and trance clubs in Tel Aviv and Berlin while technically in search of his Nazi prey.

The gay thing ties in with the slow process of Axel's own discovery of his grandfather's past, acting as a subtle reminder that the camps served to exterminate several types of political undesirables. Both Eyal and Axel are out of joint with the worlds they inhabit. Eyal's Mossad taskmaster tells him, 'We must get him (Himmelman) before God does,' though Eyal's response is that no one cares anymore about a man on the verge of death.

For Eyal, the case is already history. He is beleaguered, too, by the memories of his dead wife and his victims. Axel, for his part, reveals that he has never slept with a German, implying a disassociation from his national and familial past. The film balances Eyal's testing of his own strength with Axel's coming to consciousness of the truth about his grandfather's crimes.

Fox succeeds in showing us much of the best and worst of modern Israel. The brighter side is represented by the kibbutz where Axel's sister lives, with its folksy fondness for traditional Jewish dancing, which the Germans love and Eyal hates, and the landscape around Galilee (beautifully photographed), while the film also has in the background the ever-simmering racial and social tensions of a country divided against itself.

Fox's lightness of touch works to surprising effect, recalling Ferzan Ozpetek, the Turkish/Italian director of Facing Window, among others. The film opens with the assassination of a Hamas terrorist in Istanbul in front of his son's eyes. The close-up on those tears, contrasted with the cool efficiency of the Israeli killer, is recalled later in the dialogue when Martin asks Eyal if he knows why so many Palestinians threaten the Israelis with extreme forms of violence. Eyal's expletives suggest that he doesn't know where the eye-for-an-eye ethic leads him, though he has already seen through it in his own assignment to kill the old Himmelman.

There are tense encounters between Eyal and Axel's Palestinian love interest, who responds to the Israeli agent's derision with what could easily be didacticism on the film's part.

"Can I say one sentence? You, the Jews, are always busy thinking of what has been done to you. Maybe, if you could stop worrying about this past of yours, you could see...'

"That's three sentences," Eyal cuts him off, coolly.

Speechifying gets its message through via the director's comic timing. The liberal cliche at the heart of the film, that the Israeli state oppresses the Palestinians in an act of historical amnesia, is rendered dramatically real.

Admittedly, the film lapses into the stereotypical at points. The macho/gay binary plays out to the exclusion of several female characters, who are reduced to providing background stories and happy ending frames. It closes with a rather too literal dream sequence, telling us it's time to go home.

Eyal is too close to the stereotype of the heterosexual male, incapable of getting in touch with his feelings (he was born with dry tear ducts), and very slow in working out that his German companion is queer. These are flaws, but not dead weights, in a film that achieves more comedy than most comedies and has more political nous than many a documentary.

Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2005
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An unlikely friendship between a gay German tourist and a homophobic Israeli assassin.
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Read more Walk On Water reviews:

The Exile ***1/2

Director: Eytan Fox

Writer: Gal Uchovsky, Will Speck, Knut Berger, Andreas Struck, Caroline Peters

Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Knut Berger, Caroline Peters, Gideon Shemer, Carola Regnier, Hanns Zischler, Ernest Lenart

Year: 2004

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Israel/Sweden


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