Thursday, September 02, 2010

Walk on Water

Even as you start watching "Walk on water", a few apparent cues can reveal to you the true nature of the film's purpose. The film's title is biblical, the lead actor doesn't look like a villain he purports, there will be some sort of transformation in his outlook, and almost every other movie that comes out of Israel preaches peace.
Therefore, it doesn't take long for the curiosity to wane, and the questions of what and who turn into when and how. Eytan Fox applies almost all of his focus on the characters, adhering to strict, tested and tried formats of storytelling: initial depiction of principal character, bring about a new channel of action, apply his potentials to the plan of action, which would eventually affect him, take a toll on him, and finally render him changed..
However, the importance of this film cannot be denied a place amongst the handful of films that offer solutions instead of lamenting, to generations scarred by war and conflict. Here we have, a film examining the compromised relationship between Jews and Germans in a contemporary, modern society that is potentially thorny enough: a political thriller-cum-gay/straight-tolerance-fable examining the relationship that appears downright daunting.
Only a month since his wife's suicide, Mossad master assassin Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) insists on taking on a new mission: finding the whereabouts of an aging Nazi, who has hid for decades in Argentina but has suddenly disappeared. The Israeli intelligent service suspects he may be trying to contact his family in Germany. The man's atoning granddaughter lives in an Israeli Kibbutz where her lanky brother Axel (Knut Berger) is due for a visit. Posing as Axel's tour guide, Eyal becomes his confidant and wiretaps his sister's apartment, gleaming information from "Hansel and Gretel," as Eyal derisively calls them. Axel - a Berlin teacher of immigrant children who also expresses sympathy for the Palestinian cause - is a loopy peacenik in Eyal's eyes. But the men do have something in common, ghosts in their closets: for Eyal, his murderous past; Axel, his family's involvement in the Holocaust.
And with the sexual tension blooming both ways between the two men, as well as between Eyal and Axel's sister, it's only a matter of time before the skeletons hidden inside deep closets come out to dance. And it takes all of their emotional control to prevent that from turning into a horrible pantomime.
At the very beginning of the film, we see Lior soon establishing himself in our perspective, as an Israeli Ethan Hunt slash James Bond alias Jason Bourne. He doesn't seem to involve too much of himself during the first half of the movie, only reaching out with emotional outbursts during the latter half. Knut Berger is a surprise, having not seen him in any German film I've watched; this young man was a revelation. He acts his part with ease, and controlled anger.
The characters change in dissatisfying ways, through verbal exchanges rather than through any organic character growth. In the end, the film desperately tries to establish a visual through-line with one of those dreadful montages comprised of scenes from the film you just saw. However, Fox does handle the climactic confrontation with some flourish, and he may yet be a talent to watch.
Eytan fox knew he was treading dangerous lines here with his characters. He also knew the point where every single diplomatic enmity can be broken down into basic human emotion. It's only a matter of finding the right equation to the right variables, one that leaves no room for undesirable factors. The void of equanimity alone would symbolize peace.

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