Treading water 

Israeli film Walk on Water manages to stay afloat

While weighed down by multiple themes of nationalism, sexual prejudice and racial discrimination with romantic underpinnings thrown in, Eytan Fox's latest directorial feat Walk on Water refuses to drown in its own complexity. The inability to pin down the essence of Walk on Water as it continuously changes direction to cover new territory, somehow makes this spy saga ethereal. The greatest tribute to the film being the authentic portrayals of the three main characters of Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), Axel Himmelman (Knut Berger) and Pia Himmelman (Caroline Peters).

After walking in the shoes of Eyal, any similarly conflicted person would likely undergo the same transformation the character confronts in the film. Scoring one more Palestinian kill as an Israeli hitman for the Mossad, Eyal returns home to find his wife and a suicide note. His wife's suicide naturally shakes up the film's anti-hero, who is quickly reassigned to less delicate cases by his concerned supervisor at the Mossad.

The filmmakers set out to explore not only the current volatile prejudices between Jews and Arabs, but also the lingering resentment handed down from older Israeli generations against Nazi Germany. Eyal's new assignment is to track down and kill an aging ex-Nazi, Alfred, for heinous war crimes committed more than 60 years ago. Uncovering his whereabouts involves Eyal befriending Alfred's grandson Axel, who comes to Israel to visit his sister Pia. Knowing more of their family's secrets than her younger brother, Pia left Germany years ago for Israel and converted to Judaism. Axel's agenda for visiting Israel is to bring Pia home for their father's birthday, a sore subject for both, as she detached herself from their family for a reason.

Eyal poses as a guide for Axel and they traverse the rugged countryside of the Holy Land and the city nightlife while Pia tags along. The magic behind the film is how well Ashkenazi captures a hardened hitman whose developing friendship and fondness for Axel and Pia melts his façade and debilitates his plans to oust their grandfather. Berger does an excellent job as Axel, a heartfelt philosophical guy who broadens Eyal's perspective on life. As he had already been questioning his career path after the loss of his wife, the schism in Eyal's mind is subtly conveyed. One of the best scenes is of the two swapping ideas and idylls about life and relationships; the bond they form is believable and necessary for the film's development.

Even when Eyal realizes his newfound confidant is gay, after Axel spends the night with an Arab man to add insult to injury, Eyal eventually resolves his homophobic tendencies when Axel returns to Germany. The unexpected happens when Eyal arrives in Germany to finish his lethal assignment, though the poignancy of both characters' metamorphoses is more the highlight than the ensuing end.

The biblical allusion of the film's title references Eyal's supernatural dreams, as he envisions Axel walking on water while beckoning Eyal to do the same. It's a fitting dream as Axel is the type to speak of purging the heart and cleansing the soul, while Eyal flirts with concepts like revenge, hate and despair. Eyal walking on water figuratively portrays his eventual redemption from a dark, vengeful life.

The humanist elements in the film and artsy cinematography prevent Walk on Water from becoming top-heavy, instead elevating into a meaningful, thought-provoking production. For any viewer wrestling with internal conflict or, more specifically, a race-related identity crisis, this film serves as an inspiring way out of a limited outlook on life. Not recommended for frat parties, snuggling time or when only a knee-slapper like Napeoleon Dynamite will do.

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