|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Eytan Fox, 2005, Israel, 104 mins, English, Hebrew and German with English subtitles
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Knut Berger, Caroline Peters
This Israeli Nazi-chasing thriller bursts onto the screen with all the subtlety and panache of an educational film about international understanding aimed at 12 year olds.
Eyal (Ashkenazi) is an Israeli secret service agent fresh from the successful assassination of a Hamas leader - a hit carried out by injecting him with poison using a needle about the thickness of a marker pen. His new assignment is to baby sit Axel (Berger), a German tourist who may have links to an exiled Nazi war criminal. Posing as a tour guide he drives the young man to visit his sister Pia (Peters) on a kibbutz, where the three compare their views on the world. Will the peace-loving Germans open Eyal's eyes to the hypocrisy of using revenge killing to right ancient wrongs? ... Well, would you like to guess?
There is the germ of a compelling story here, and Walk On Water is a commercial enough proposition to have already become the most financially successful Israeli film at the US box office ever. And to be fair Ashkenazi is an affable and appealing lead, who looks good on screen and tries to make the best he can of Eyal's exceedingly simple character arc.
But the script reads like it was adapted from a play for schools called 'Why Can't We All Get Along?’ perhaps from the repertoire of The League Of Gentlemen's crass 'Legz Akimbo Theatre Group'. Sesame Street skits offer more sophistication than some of the scenes here. And as the dialogue cycles between Hebrew, German and English, one cannot just blame awkwardly translated subtitles. As Eyal and Axel take a shower we hear, 'So they didn't circumcise you? Is everyone in Europe like that?' And when the two men urinate on a campfire to extinguish it, Axel gleefully exclaims, 'This is an interesting way to put out a campfire!' One wonders if the screenwriter has ever actually had a conversation with another human being.
The film oscillates between Israeli Tourist Board ads (Visit our reasonable markets! Swim in the beautiful Dead Sea!) and Frederick Forsyth-lite spy action. Following up his leads to Axel's parents' house, Eyal is invited to an upper class party attended by Germans so grotesque it's a surprise that they aren't shown torturing kittens and eating babies on swastika-shaped pieces of toast. And the ludicrous finale - in which the much pursued Nazi, turns out to be an ELDERLY man! Who is quite FRAIL! - telegraphs its emotional punchline from 100 paces.
It is possible that this sort of thing plays well in Israel. In fact a subplot concerning Axel's brief involvement with a gay Palestinian man is probably pretty groundbreaking in the Middle East's traditionally conservative social environment. But as a thriller it has too few thrills, and as a political essay it has too little insight. Walk On Water may have ambitions to rise above, but in truth it only splashes feebly and sinks beneath the waves.