Saturday, 9 February 2008

Film: Walk on Water

Lowdown: A Mossad agent befriends a German in order to track his Nazi grandfather.
I was never a fan of Israeli films and I hardly ever seek to watch Israeli cinema. The only Israeli films that truly talked to me are comedies that work as cult films mainly because of how bad they are, like the previously discussed Halfon Hill. However, Walk on Water is an Israeli film that I liked despite and perhaps because of its inherent Israeliness.
The story follows a Mossad agent called Eyal, whom we get to know when he assassins a Muslim terrorist in front of his family in the middle of broad daylight Istanbul. The next thing we learn about this cold blooded killer is that when he comes back home from his mission he finds his wife dead in their bed, having just committed suicide.
His employers give him a break with a simple task: act as a tour guide to a young German tourist coming to visit his sister, who conveniently enough for the film works at a Kibbutz. The aim there is to try and see whether this German knows something about his Nazi grandfather, who up until recently was hiding in Argentina but disappeared all of a sudden. As the mission goes along the killer and the tourist become friends, have their intimate moments, and also have their breakdowns. Eventually, Eyal goes to see the German in Germany, which sets up the film's climax.
Overall, the film feels very international: Roughly half of it (the larger half) is set in Israel, the other half in Germany, and it speaks Hebrew, English and German (with just a tiny bit of Arabic for spicing). As can be expected, the Israeli bit takes you through a lot of the more famous tourist attractions, such as the Sea of Galilee, the old city of Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea; it then moves on to take the viewer, albeit at a brisker pace, through some of the more famous attractions of Berlin.
Essentially what the film is trying to do by pitting an Israeli and a German together while always discussing the Israeli-Arab conflict in the background is to demonstrate the similarities between what happened with Germans and Jews and what is happening now between Israelis and Palestinians. The death of Eyal's wife and the disconnection between the German and his ancestors symbolize the price you pay for subduing other people. The comparison between the two "conflicts", which when put straight on paper might raise accusations of antisemitism along the lines of "how can you compare what the Germans did to us to what we are doing to the Arabs", is only hinted at, but it's very much there. What Walk on Water is trying to say is that just as the Israeli can now live in peace and actually befriend the German, and just as the German can now live with his past, so can the Israeli and the Arab live together in harmony as long as they all start listening to one another.
As much as I agree with this message, I also have to admit that what attracted me the most to Walk on Water is the face of Israel it exposes before the viewer. There are some genuinely authentic symbols of Israeli culture in the film, of the type that are rarely discussed, and of the type that I was only last exposed to when watching Munich. I'm talking about things such as the bare tiles in Eyal's apartment (for comparison, Australians mostly live in houses, and floors are always either made of wood or carpeted); and I'm also talking about the way Israelis tend to dismiss others, especially foreigners, as idiots all too easily; and of course, I'm talking about the way most Israelis feel and treat Arabs (at least judging by the way most of the Israeli public is quite fine with Israel's continued occupation of large Palestinian populations and the way the Israeli public is generally fine with what is done in its name to these occupied populations).
There are, however, some major problems with Walk on Water. For a start, I had a problem with the Israeli dialog: the way the Israeli characters talk to one another doesn't sound convincing at all; no Israeli would talk to another Israeli in such a way. This problem is evident in a lot of Israeli films and it makes them all feel quite artificial, with dialog feeling as if the actors are reading a script to one another rather than conversing with each other.
Second, there are some key plot issues that just cannot pass by the viewer, like Eyal suddenly popping up a gun in the middle of Berlin and then explaining the existence of the gun in his pocket with "I forgot I had it with me". Can anyone expect a person to be able to fly internationally with a gun on their body, especially in a post September 11 world? Not to mention the German guy finding Eyal's gun lying down in Eyal's car while they travel around Israel, which is not exactly up to the standards of a Mossad agent.
Best scene: A few scenes can qualify, but the climax scene tops them all. Of course, it would be a crime for me to expose what takes in this scene here and now, especially after several reviews discussing the film managed to ruin it for me.
Overall: An entertaining and often sharp film with something good to say, too. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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