Walk on Water

2 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: January 11, 2005
Reviewed at the 2005 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Dying to walk away

An assassin’s life is difficult. When success is measured in body bags and shooting-range scores it must be difficult to achieve inner satisfaction unless the desire for revenge is so strong that ending the lives of the “bad” and wreaking havoc with their survivors is strong enough to reload the gun or syringe and savour the next offing.

In the first few minutes of Walk on Water, all of the narrative ingredients required to cook up a fascinating film are present: A Mossad agent, Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi, great as killer, uneven as lost soul), whose plugged-up tear ducts prevent his sobs, but whose “success” rate unleashes torrents in others; a crusty old Nazi hunter, Menachem (Gideon Shemer), who is obsessed with ending the lives of WW II traitors “before God takes them” and the grandkids of Alfred Himmelman (Ernest Lenart), the Argentina-protected target: Pia Himmelman (Caroline Peters) living on a Kibbutz and refusing to return to Berlin for daddy’s 70th birthday and her gay brother Axel (Knut Berger looking equally fine sporting mud or CK muscle shirts), who refuses to sleep with Germans, but decides to visit Israel and find his Jewish roots.

However, before you can say “twist the plot,” Eyal—mourning the unexpected death of his wife—is assigned (going undercover as an Israeli tourist guide) to show Axel the sights while discovering Grandpa’s whereabouts in order to snuff him out before the old geezer’s deteriorating health does.

Conveniently, Pia has to work, so the day trips allow quickdraw and queer the chance to get to know each other man to man. They tour the famous historical spots and have deep discussions about circumcisions (following their mutual unveiling as they shower off their sunscreen and salt). Still with that theme, they haul out their cut/uncut hoses (see the film to discover whose is whose) to piss out the campfire after a near-tender moment cuddling for warmth on the deserted beach. Hmmm, we wonder, will Eyal come over to the other side?

In the evenings, things move differently. A meal in a four-star restaurant (where Pia and Eyal briefly appear to be getting close), provides Axel the opportunity to pick up Arab waiter Rafik (Yousef Sweid, affably charming, a breath of fresh air) as everyone meets for “dessert” at Jerusalem’s upscale gay bar. Eyal is a fresh-meat hit, but takes nothing but his discomfort home. Still, there’s more than a whiff of jealousy as Axel and his trick dance the night away and—quel surprise—are still together when the assassin picks them up for the next day’s outing.

Except for the surreptitiously planted bug in the siblings’ apartment finally divulging the re-emergence of Grandpa Himmelman, the movie would have ended there. But the detail-oriented agent failed to listen to the very last tape, providing Menachem a few more minutes of screen time even as his star killer’s character becomes further muddled.

Previously vowing never to visit Germany, Eyal surprises Axel in Berlin: “I wanted to surprise you.” “You did.” Dialogue doesn’t get much better than that. Soon they’re all friends and touring the underground where the mild-mannered tour operator annihilates a bunch of transvestite bashers with his day job expertise. Axel, perhaps fantasizing about some rough stuff of his own, doesn’t blink an eye at this demolition derby just as he thought nothing of discovering a revolver in the tourist van’s glove box.

Naturally, Eyal is invited to the family birthday gathering, where seeing his Arab-loving friend in a pinstripe suit prompts the ruthless agent’s savvy remark: “You look very German.”

To no one’s further surprise, Menachem is also in town and—when his exterminator confirms Grandfather’s presence—is forced to reveal that this is a rogue mission. Then he fires up his prize employee’s bloodlust, by urging him to skip legal extradition and kill the wheelchair bound traitor now: “Do it for your mother.”

Any remaining hope of willful suspension of disbelief evaporates as Eyal returns to the Himmelman mansion and finds the door unlocked, the servants and family nowhere to be seen, then—without a hint of uncertainty—marches up the stairs and finds his target’s bedroom on the first try. Keep this man out of the Casino! But, not to be outdone, Axel is clairvoyant in his own right, finding the damning evidence about his wavering friend’s real purpose in the initial clandestine search of Eyal’s travelling bag.

It gives nothing away to report that the old man perishes, but you’ll have to take a peek to learn how. Suffice it to say that what still remains of the pair’s characterization vanishes as suddenly as real tears reappear, leaving everyone wondering who we should mourn the most.

Director Eytan Fox and writer Gal Uchovsky couldn’t decide what sort of film this is: action, morality play, or romantic comedy. Instead we get copious amounts of each, which—sadly—only waters down a very promising start. JWR

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Director - Eytan Fox
Producers - Amir Harel, Gal Uchovsky
Music - Ivri Lider
Director of Photography - Tobias Hochstein
Editor - Yosef Grunfeld
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