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Walk on Water (2004)

LaLehet Al HaMayim, To Walk On Water, Walking on Water

Directed by:

Eytan Fox

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 104 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: Israel, Sweden

Mossad assassin Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) returns home from a successful hit in Istanbul to find his partner Iris has committed suicide. A month later, and still refusing to receive trauma therapy, Eyal is assigned by his boss Menachem (Gidon Shemer) to act as a personal tour guide for a young German named Axel (Knut Berger) who is visiting his sister Pia (Caroline Peters) on a kibbutz. Eyal is to spy on both of them, in the hope that 'Hansel and Gretel' (as Eyal calls them) will drop some breadcrumbs leading to their ex-Nazi grandfather. Hyper-macho, reactionary Eyal has difficulty accepting Axel's liberal attitudes, open homosexuality and sympathy with Palestinians – but when he follows Axel to Germany to attend his father's 70th birthday, Eyal discovers that there is a lot that both he and Axel have to learn from each other, as their rôles undergo a dramatic reversal.

In a pivotal scene in Eytan Fox's 'Walk on Water', Eyal sits in a motel restaurant in Germany with Axel and describes how, as a sick game, Israeli students on German exchange trips would confront randomly selected old people with the question: “Where were you when my family was burned at the camps?”. Axel defies Eyal to play the same game then and there – but the only person present old enough to have been alive during the second world war turns out to be Menachem (who is tailing the pair undercover). The notion that such a man could be mistaken for a (possible) Nazi bristles with strange ironies – in fact Menachem's entire family was wiped out by Nazis, but now he himself presides over the extra-judicial killing of men in front of their families. He, like Eyal, risks becoming what he despises, an indiscrimate hater of entire ethnic groups (Germans, Palestinians), and a cold-blooded murderer.

Such ironies abound in 'Walk on Water'. Eyal's distrust of all things German, ingrained in him by his survivor mother, is challenged directly by Axel, who, two generations after his own grandfather sent an entire community to the deathcamps, is not only openly gay (making him a potential target of Neonazis), but also as disgusted as Eyal himself by the ideology of the Third Reich (and by his own grandfather). Axel also casts a queer eye over the machoistic activities in Israel's military 'camps' – even if, thankfully, the film never quite subscribes to the clichéd cinematic fiction that all homophobes are just self-hating homosexuals.

For a film set in three starkly different countries (Turkey, Israel and Germany), featuring five different languages (Turkish, Hebrew, German, English, Arabic) and combining an 'odd couple' plot with espionage and intrigue, 'Walk On Water' is a strangely lacklustre affair, with a bland visual aesthetic that would not be out of place in a telemovie. Yet what it lacks in stylistic punch it more than makes up for in a willingness to dip its toes into controversial political waters. For it dramatises the daily prejudice meted out to ordinary Palestinians by Israelis (without shrinking from the horrors of suicide bombings), and portrays Israel as a state crippled by past sufferings which it is doomed to repeat unless it can confront and cleanse its trauma, reconcile itself with its former enemies, and learn to dream again of a better future. The inclusion of such potentially combustible materials in a mainstream Israeli film is itself nothing short of a Galilean miracle.

It's Got: Strong performances; a complicated moral and political message.

It Needs: To look less bland.

Alternatives:

Only Human, Private, The Crying Game

Summary

The buddy flick meets the spy movie in this provocative examination of Israel's uneasy relationship with Germany.

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