WALK ON WATER

 
Directed by Eytan Fox. USA. 2004.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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In the modern world, terrorists cannot let feelings get in the way of their assigned mission and those who must defend themselves against terrorist attacks must be equally strong and ruthless. Killing is done with cold efficiency and the killers cannot allow themselves to acknowledge their own pain or the pain of others. A film that dramatizes the kind of people we have become is Eytan Fox's Walk on Water, a film about a Mossad secret agent, trained as a ruthless killer, who uncovers his own humanity before it is lost forever. Fox, an openly Gay Israeli director, has directed a film about the subjects he is most familiar with: the problems of Gay people, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the unhealed wounds between Jews and Germans. 

Based on an actual incident related to the director by his therapist, Walk on Water begins when Mossad agent Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) efficiently carries out an assassination of a Hamas leader in broad daylight in front of hundreds of people including the leader's wife and young son. When he arrives home, Eyal discovers that his wife has committed suicide. Though Eyal is as unemotional as ever, his boss Menachem (Gideon Shemer) refuses to give him a dangerous assignment until he has dealt with this tragedy. Eyal accepts the temporary job of pretending to be a tour guide for the grandchildren of a Nazi war criminal, Alfred Himmelman, in hopes that they will lead him to their grandfather. 

He meets young Axel Himmelman (Knut Berger) an open, liberal-minded German who has come to visit his sister Pia (Carolina Peters) who lives and works on a kibbutz in Israel and refuses to have anything to do with her parents. When he greets them at the airport, his dry sense of humor emerges. He tells them that they just missed today's bomb, that there is usually one a day and there will be another one for them shortly. As a tour guide Eyal is cynical and taciturn but each gradually warms to the other. Pia, though German, is quite content in Israel and tells Eyal that people look upon her with pity but do not stop being friendly. Both Eyal and Axel appreciate the same kind of music and a night of dancing to Israeli folk music helps bridge the gap of understanding. 

Eyal never loses his focus on the job at hand, however, and plants a recording device in Pia's room, then sits up at night listening to taped conversations of "Hansel" and "Gretel" in hopes of learning the whereabouts of their Nazi grandfather. When they visit the Sea of Galilee, Axel tells Eyal that they can walk on water if they can purify themselves and as they visit the tourist spots of Jerusalem, Eyal's demeanor starts to become a bit softer. The agent's facade crumbles even further when Pia and Axel mimic the song "Cinderella Rockafella" at a Kibbutz talent Quest, evident in flashbacks to the tears on his wife's face and that of his last victim's son. After Eyal calls Palestinians little better than animals, he becomes very disturbed when he discovers Axel is Gay, especially when he picks up an Arab boy (Yussuf Sweid) during a tour of Jerusalem. 

The boy, put off by his attitude, tells him, "You, the Jews, are always busy thinking of what has and what has not been done to you. Maybe, if you could stop worrying about this past of yours, you could see…." But Eyal doesn't want to see and tells him to shut up. The final scenes take place in Berlin where Axel has gone to be at his father's 70th birthday party, an event Ayel has also flown to Germany to attend at Axel's invitation.  The climax brings all the elements of the film together in scenes that that are tense, emotional, and unpredictable but filled with a deep humanity as each character reveals their vulnerability. 

Perhaps Fox tries to tackle too many issues in a film of only 104 minutes, yet Walk on Water is more about personal transformation than the rights and wrongs of a particular cause. Fox has shown us with humour and compassion that, beyond the terrorist bombs and the growing despair, there is a common thread of humanity that exists between seemingly irreconcilable people and ideas. It is an outstanding film that will leave you feeling that you can walk on water.

GRADE: A-

Howard Schumann
 
 
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