Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), is an elite member of Mossad, specializing in the tracking and termination of terrorists. After the death of his wife, he is pulled off active duty, and given a new assignment to serve as tour guide for the grandchildren of an ailing Nazi war criminal in the hopes of bringing him to justice before he dies. For Eyal, babysitting tourists and tracking a phantom from a forgotten era is a nuisance and a waste of time. His resolve is further weakened when he is befriended by his charges, and his former life of black and white dissolves into shades of gray.
Ow, ow, ow....oh, by the way, did I mention that I was gay?
The screenplay, written by Gal Uchovsky and Eytan Fox, tackles a pantheon of complex issues, past and present including the Holocaust, the collective German response to it, and the impact of Israel's efforts to deal with terrorism. Central to the story’s theme are the intertwined yet often contradictory concepts of conflict and tolerance, which are illuminated by the cast.
Ashkenazi is riveting as the stoic Eyal and through his struggles with long-held preconceptions reveals an ingrained streak of intolerance. Ashkenazi embodies the machismo psyche prevalent among Israeli males, which is especially pronounced in paramilitary organizations like Mossad (several former Mossad agents apparently complained to the Fox, the film’s director, that the agents weren't glamorous enough). Eyal’s overt hypermasculinity stands in stark contrast to Knut Berger's soft-spoken portrayal of Alex Himmelman. Their duality is especially pronounced in Alex's interactions with others: despite his classical German looks, his gregarious nature allows him to blend in with both Arabs and Israelis, whereas Eyal appears to be incapable of even basic connections with his fellow countrymen. Gideon Shemer is sublime as Menachem, Eyal’s supervisor and mentor, displaying a uniquely levelheaded humanity given the nature of his chosen profession. Finally, while Carolina Peters delivers a measured performance as Pia, Alex’s sister, her limited presence and scant dialogue make it clear that the writers either are not used to writing for women, or simply felt that she wasn’t important to the story’s development (even though she is arguably the key). Whenever the cast falls silent, the scenery picks up the slack.
Given the project’s limited budget, it’s surprising to see the varied locales used in the film: the crew traveled to Istanbul, Berlin and criss-crossed Israel in the course of the shoot. The only thing that unifies the venues is their distinctness, ranging from exotic to pedestrian. The footage of the various landmarks provided me with a new insight into the true diversity, living history and stark beauty that is Israel. I was especially taken with the ethereal nature of the Dead Sea, but was curious how they managed to get the place all to themselves when it is such a tourist mecca. Turns out they shot in winter and the actors almost got hypothermia. Supporting the theme of diversity, is a soundtrack which features Italian Opera, Israeli folk music and Bruce Springsteen. The songs are married well to both the moods and locations, and serve to enhance the continuity of the film.
"Walk on Water" is a powerful film that raises many questions and will no doubt cause discomfort for many viewers – it will be difficult to leave the experience behind without strong feelings. When you step beyond the cerebral distillation of the psychosocial elements that fuel the ongoing conflict in the region, the film still stands up to scrutiny as an entertaining drama. With the exception of a birthday sequence that felt like an afterthought, the story flowed seamlessly, the cast was outstanding, and the visuals were overwhelming.