Turn the other cheek

‘Walk on Water’ seeks to bridge several cultural divides

by Steven Snyder

Despite the weekly evidence to the contrary, some mainstream films still strive to be meaningful. Too many, though, wind up feeling belabored or preachy.

Although some critics have unfairly characterized “Walk on Water” as a film that is flawed in one of those ways, the movie plays out somewhere in between. It is not an exercise in answering impossible questions or solving unsolvable problems. Rather, “Walk on Water” is director Eytan Fox’s idealistic attempt to start a conversation he feels should have started long ago.

The setting is modern Israel. Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), is a Jewish intelligence officer. He murders the enemies of the state, and his newest assignment features the greatest enemy of all: the Nazis.

A frail ex-Nazi is missing from his place of exile in Germany. Eyal’s boss wants to get him “before God does.” To uncover his location, Eyal must impersonate a travel guide to trick Pia and Axel, the former Nazi’s grandchildren. Pia now lives in Israel, and Axel is visiting for the first time, eager to see the country.

But the plot is not really about an assassin, a Nazi or a series of tourist escapades through Israel and Palestine. It is simply a framework through which two people who would never normally encounter each other are forced to talk and, more importantly, listen.

Eyal despises all Germans, as many in Jewish communities have since the Holocaust. In one scene, he recalls hearing his childhood classmates recount a game they played during a trip to Germany. They approached anyone older than 40 and asked, in Hebrew, where they were while Jewish families were being slaughtered. They’d then laugh and run away.

These are touchy subjects, but Fox confronts them head on.

As Eyal gives Axel a tour of his homeland, they discuss rifts between their cultures and start to recognize the person who exists beneath dress, accent and heritage.

“Walk on Water” then goes further, showing that hatred is not just steeped in a war torn past, but also a turbulent present. In one subplot, Eyal is suspicious and downright fearful of Alex’s homosexuality. In another, cell phone networks are constantly jammed from emergency calls surrounding the ongoing street-side attacks between Jews and Palestinians.

The film depicts a world that cannot escape the effects of this hatred. Early in the film, Eyal’s wife commits suicide, terrified by the cycle of violence her husband perpetuates.

After all these years, Fox says it’s time to sit down, talk and realize the situation is no longer as clear-cut as it once was. As new generations of Jews and Germans try to put the past to rest, there is a world in which both can at least coexist.

The film’s finale, in the Sea of Galilee, has no easy answer. It’s Fox’s final, optimistic dream of a future destination both groups can start journeying toward.

And why not start the journey today?