Bathed in controversy

This film is about Israel, a particularly controversial country. A lot of people have very strong opinions on it; some people don’t. If you are one of the latter, you will really enjoy “Walk on Water” (Samuel Goldwyn Films) for its riveting storyline, complex characters, sharp cinematography and solid pacing; if you are one of the former, chances are that your politics will prevent you from enjoying a really great film.

“Walk on Water,” directed by Eytan Fox, tells the story of a young Israeli named Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), who, like many Israelis and Jews of his generation, is having difficulty coming to terms with his identity as a member of one of the most hated and struggling people in history.

He becomes acquainted with Axel (Knut Berger) and Pia Himmelmann (Caroline Peters), German siblings who are respectively vacationing and living in Israel, and who likewise have issues with their post-World War II identities as Germans. Their relationship is very complex, and by no means coincidental: Eyal is an agent of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and the Himmelmanns are grandchildren of a Nazi responsible for many Jewish deaths during the war. Moonlighting as a tour guide for Axel, Eyal is looking for leads; his commander hopes to get to their grandfather before God does.

As the relationships unfold between characters, the depth with which each actor performs his or her role becomes obvious. The work that Lior Ashkenazi has done with Eyal is admirable. As if being an assassin weren’t enough, he is also a secular nationalist, a homophobe and a widower. Knut and Peters also deserve credit; although the film is foremost about Israel, they don’t let the audience forget that the current generation of German youth faces a similar process of coming to terms with the past.

After a recent screening, director Eytan Fox shared the stage with a Palestinian doctor and a former ambassador to Israel for a question-and-answer session, which caused the discussion to become heated and uncomfortable at times. Despite this, Fox was still able to articulate his storytelling vision. “There are different kinds of men and different ways of being a man.” Based on these notions, the film is about investigating “how we came to be these people that we are and try to point out mistakes, difficult places, dead ends that we’ve reached and how we have to process that, understand that and maybe learn how to change.”

Fox said he doesn’t mind that the film is embroiled in politics. A self-proclaimed “lefty peacenik,” he said he’s glad the film is “creating an atmosphere to get people together … an atmosphere of a dialogue.”

Israel needs to check its stance, he thinks. “Anger and emotions have made ourselves blind to the struggles of others … An open dialogue is the only approach that can bring us anywhere that makes sense.”

“Walk on Water” is now playing in Washington D.C.

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