WALK ON WATER

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


             “Walk on Water” is an Israeli film that achieves power in the best of ways:  it invites us to think.  We are asked to inhabit the minds of young Germans who, as they become farther and farther removed from the Nazi regime of their grandparents’ past, still carry, to one degree or another, the emotional scars of the atrocities committed in the name of their country.  It also brings us into the minds of young Israelis still hunting down the guilty.  This is a story of the complexity of that generational chain.  By not showing any Word War II imagery, the movie allows us to focus in a contemporary time frame on the effects of the past on the present.  You will not find a dogmatic moment in this film, and that is its strength.

Director Eytan Fox and writer Gal Uchovsky tell the story of some extremely sympathetic characters who are wise enough to open themselves to the philosophical questions that are their legacy but not their reality.  It is a film of stunningly quiet power that is haunting and provocative.  The resentments of Israeli/German, Israeli/Arab, and gay/straight may seem like too many major themes for one short movie,  but talented hands have woven them beautifully into a human tapestry.

Eyal (Lior Ashkenasi) is a covert Mossad agent skilled in the craft of assassination.  Armed with the tools of his trade, a new assignment, and the certitude of his profession, he goes under cover as a tour guide for Axel Himmelman (Knut Berger), a young German who has come to Israel to visit his sister Pia (Caroline Peters) who lives and works in her adopted country.  Eyal’s mission:  to learn the whereabouts of the Nazi war criminal who happens to be the grandfather of Pia and Axel and to kill him. 

As Eyal, serious and reserved, and Axel, open and gentle, get to know each other, they explore the heritage of World War II with guarded civility.  As their friendship grows, we can feel Axel’s certitude weaken; we understand Pia’s estrangement from her family; we appreciate the sincerity of Axel’s character.  When the Mossad officer says of the grandfather, “Get him before God does,” and when Eyal says of a Palestinian terrorist, “They’re animals,” we see the totality of the hatred.     

It is the subtle, consummate acting skill of Lior Ashkenasi and Knut Berger that makes the two men such credible conduits for the deep conflicts of the story.  Through them, Director Fox feeds us the strength of their emotional legacy and their present reality.  The final impact, signaled by a superb short appearance by Carola Regnier as Axel’s mother, is devastating.  It is diminished only by a mercifully short clichéd afterthought.  We can forgive Mr. Fox for that after what he has given us but we can also hope he edits it out for posterity.   If one cliché deserves another, I suggest that you will indeed be on the edge of your seat throughout.

 


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