Movie Review (WALK ON WATER)

I was impressed with the 2004 Israeli film WALK ON WATER. What a wonderful, humanizing production concerning Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-German cultural and political tensions– factoring in the issues of homophobia and toxic masculinity as well.

Handsome Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi skillfully plays Eyal, a seemingly callous hit man for Mossad, Israel’s official security service. Having just successfully killed a representative of Hamas while in Istanbul, Turkey, Eyal returns home for briefing on his next assignment. At his residence, he finds his wife has killed herself. Ever the hardened stoic, he continues working without engaging in psychotherapy mandated by his superiors, though his immediate boss Menachem (Gideon Shemer) doesn’t press the issue. However, Eyal is reassigned a “less challenging” mission: to track down the whereabouts of a very elderly Nazi war criminal and kill him “before God does.” To do so, he must first befriend the two adult grandchildren of this man via posing as their tour guide. The granddaughter Pia (Caroline Peters) has moved to a kibbutz after distancing herself from her parents in Berlin. Axel (Knut Berger), her gay younger brother, visits his sister with the hopes of convincing her to return to Germany with him and celebrate their wealthy father’s seventieth birthday.

Shortly after making their acquaintance at the kibbutz, Eyal bugs Pia’s room and proceeds to spy on the siblings’ conversations. The story unfolds from there, whereby Eyal grows increasingly conflicted around having to befriend two German, non-Jewish liberals, with one of them being a gay man who soon spends time bonding with Rafik (Yousef ‘Joe’ Sweid), a gay Palestinian. Already isolated in his suppressed grief, the homophobic, Zionist-leaning Eyal is increasingly pushed out of his comfort zone. Steadily, his cool but tense exterior begins to crack. One night, he abruptly leaves a gay dance club Axel and Pia bring him to as part of their sight-seeing and taking in of local night life. Later, in an outdoor market stall, he bullies Rafik’s merchant father to accept a pittance on Axel’s purchase of a new coat. Both of these incidences occur after Eyal has spent much time touring the countryside with the two siblings, especially with the brother, who he takes for a mud bath by the Dead Sea. This ends with the two men showering naked together. Axel’s and Eyal’s intimate moments of long hours driving in the same car and getting a spa treatment in such a peaceful, remote setting facilitates much conversation about their respective lives and perspectives. They listen to CD’s, discussing what kinds of music they each like, touch upon differences (such as circumcision norms) in their cultures of origin, and wax political, including about the Holocaust. Much later, in Berlin, where Eyal is tasked to complete his mission, the assassin reconnects with Axel. Initially surprised, the young German warmly gives him a partial tour of the historic city before inviting Eyal to his parents’ villa. Hence, the seasoned spy successfully manipulates his way into this long-planned destination.

As Eyal begins to emotionally soften around the edges and grow more morally sophisticated, becoming less vengeance-oriented, we viewers eventually witness a hard edge surfacing from the otherwise gentle and open-minded Axel. Their friendship by calculated design becomes genuine, as does Eyal’s connection with Pia, though this alliance is less focused on in the movie. However, actress Caroline Peters does an excellent job conveying her character’s attraction to Ashkenazi’s Eyal, such as how she begins to look at him. It gradually becomes evident that the protagonist is a complex, even caring person underneath his macho exterior, a persona constantly reinforced by frequent news of suicide terrorist attacks on Jewish civilians and ongoing sanctioned oppression of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.

The movie artfully walks a fine line of being a cat and mouse suspense drama while relaying an emotionally and morally compelling story about human relationships and the struggle to become a psychologically healthier, better person in the face of major demographic differences all around and personal life crises, particularly that of loss and grief. Kudos to skillful screenwriter Gal Uchovsky, nimble director Eytan Fox, and the excellent cast, each of whom were either Israeli, German, or Arab. Mostly English was spoken throughout, followed by Hebrew, German, and, briefly (if I remember correctly) some Arabic, respectively. Hearing such different languages spoken, depending on where the setting happened to be and who was speaking to who felt fascinating and a little humbling to me, a monolingual American.

At times, I was quite drawn into the film’s aesthetics, namely when Israel’s countryside appeared, particularly the few scenes along the Dead Sea. What a mystical-looking place. And the variety of diegetic music was interesting and often fun to listen to, from Israeli folk and pop tunes, to Club music, to some old-time (1960s through ’80s) American and European hit songs. I suspect I’ve missed a few other music genres that were represented in the movie. I would love to track down the soundtrack to WALK ON WATER if one was ever released.

This is a refreshingly international screenplay with only overt musical references to the U.S.A. and nothing else blatantly American. (Given the coronavirus pandemic’s ongoing effects, traveling abroad just by watching movies is where it’s at for me for a good while.) I often felt transported to somewhere else in the world and satisfied with the overall narrative, including its resolution. The production’s overall message is ultimately a life-affirming, cautiously hope-filled one. I recommend WALK ON WATER be viewed by anyone who is open to watching something that’s non-American, informally culturally and historically educational, emotionally and morally intriguing, and visually and musically interesting.

7 thoughts on “Movie Review (WALK ON WATER)

  1. I had better luck finding that than the movie. I think that might be impossible. It was unavailable at Amazon. Walmart has it but it’s $65.00. why so much, do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s probably available on Netflix, which, obviously, is a monthly streaming service. It’s interesting how my particular basic Cable package I have through Comcast has this as one of thousands of available free movies for me to watch. Do you have a basic Cable service you pay for? I can well understand if you don’t. I know a lot of people have forsaken Cable and opted for streaming platforms to watch TV shows and movies that way.

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  2. I did find it on Comcast On Demand. Why I didn’t look there first is beyond me. I spent the afternoon watching it. I absolutely loved this movie. You did a beautiful job writing this wonderful expose of Walking on Water, especially in the way you described it as a humanizing production. My favorite character was Axel. His openness in spirit,, the love, acceptance, and easiness in relating with his sister, and his strength of character especially in the deathbed scene with Eyal, not so surprising because the thoughtfulness and presence he portrayed throughout the movie showed maturity beyond his years. The music was quite entertaining. Some of it reminded me of one of my Turkish/German drivers who used to play foreign music on the long drive home. I particularly liked the folk dance scenes which reminded me of wedding receptions. It was the end of the movie that was surprising and gratefully so. The scene by the deathbed when Axel realized Eyal’s dilemma that showed how much they had changed. I like to think it was from knowing Axel and Pia that he was no longer able to do the job he was supposed to do or perhaps it was the death of his wife. This may be one movie I may watch again and again because of the way it captured the human spirit. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you found the movie, then watched and enjoyed it. I had a feeling you would like it very much. I found Axel the most lovable and attractive character, very similar to how you felt about him. I could readily see going out for drinks and dancing with Axel, him being very much a sympatico soul with me and others I know. However, in terms of the most challenging person who deeply changes for the better, I found Eyal the most interesting character study. He certainly was someone I initially could not stand but then grew to respect and feel relief and compassion for as he evolved so much, particularly towards and during the end of the film. I only wish I could see more characters like him in American films change like that, instead of remaining hardened, macho men from beginning to end, so tiring and uninteresting. (Think Sylvester Stallone as Rambo and so many other hypermasculine action movie actors.) I thought it was wonderful how Axel, with his loving presence, was there to receive and hold Eyal in his grief, which he had been holding back for so long, including probably grief from even before the death of his wife. Very powerful. Indeed, WALK ON WATER captured the human spirit beautifully.

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