Walk on Water
Directed by Eytan Fox. Starring Lior Ashkenazi, Knut Berger, Caroline Peters, Gideon Shemer, Carola Regnier, Hanns Zischler. (2004, R, 102 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 6, 2005
Walk on Water makes you wonder what the Mossad is teaching its field agents these days. Apparently, they’re tops at employing toxic syringes to off visiting Palestinian terrorists, but not so hot when it comes to spotting a gay German tourist, as the Israeli secret service agent Eyal (Ashkenazi, of Late Marriage) discovers late in Eytan Fox’s shrill plea for tolerance along the Sea of Galilee. As the homophobic assassin tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of a vanished South American Nazi, Ashkenazi oozes righteous machismo like a gored bullfighter leaks blood. Alternating his expression from that of indignant warrior to shocked, shocked-I-tell-you hetero male, he’s like some testosterone-fueled cipher marching lockstep to a martial tune that plays just for Mossad’s humorless squaddies. Not so his target, Axel (Berger), the twentysomething grandson of the aforementioned SS officer, who arrives in Israel to visit his kibbutz-dwelling sister Pia (Peters). Eyal, playing the role of tour guide, insinuates himself into the siblings’ lives and then proceeds to bug Pia’s home and keep Axel on a short lead in the hopes that one of them will reveal the location of his ultimate quarry. Boys from Berlin just want to have fun, though, and so we get the free-spirited and decidedly queeny Axel offering up his karaoke version of Esther Ofarim’s swinging Sixties travesty "Cinderella Rockefella" – itself a human-rights violation of epic proportions – and offering such weary platitudes as "You can’t just walk on water, you’ve got to purify your heart first" to his oblivious minder (while sporting a "Miracle Worker" T-shirt, no less). Fox, who directed the fine Yossi & Jagger a few years back, is intent on driving home his simplistic belief that the whole Israeli/Palestinian brouhaha is on a par with hetero/homo relations; solve one, and you can solve them all. That’s unfortunately not the case, and so the perpetually scowling Eyal comes off not as a nihilistic prick but instead as a rational man caught up in an irrational conflict. Walk on Water has its heart in the right place, but the grim reality of day-to-day events in the region nullify its strained opposites-attract formulaics. And Fox’s glaringly obvious use of musical symbolism only adds to the film’s cringeworthy moments: As if Ofarim’s little ditty weren’t grating enough, we’re also subjected to multiple versions of Buffalo Springfield’s "For What It’s Worth" and Bruce Springsteen’s "Tunnel of Love." What, no CSNY "Four Dead in Gaza" remix? Walk on Water’s childlike sentimentality may be admirable in some quarters, but it’s Eyal’s gruff exterior that resonates as the performance most grounded in the dangerous realities of daily Israeli life, depressing though that may be. Compared to him, Axel, the film’s tolerant heart and soul, seems to be living in a fantasy world.