Eyton Fox’s “Yossi and Jagger,” which dealt with a homosexual tryst between two Israeli soldiers in a border encampment, was an affecting piece, told almost in miniature, with a very limited cast, location and time frame. In “Walk on Water,” the director works on a considerably broader canvas, but to much less effect. Ranging geographically from Israel to Germany and taking on topics that include war guilt, sexual preferences, the morality of anti-terrorist violence and Arab-Israeli relations, the film never achieves much coherence or focus. It’s also played in a curiously stiff fashion by a young cast that’s physically attractive but emotionally flat.
The linchpin of the triangle in Gal Uchovsky’s script is Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), a member of the Israeli Mossad who, in the first scene, assassinates a terrorist leader while the man is on an outing with his family. The steely-eyed agent then returns to Israel, only to discover that his wife has committed suicide in his absence. His boss Menachem (Gidon Shemer), unable to get him to come to terms with this feelings about the tragedy, assigns him a job considerably less lethal than his usual–acting the part of tour guide to a German fellow, Axel Himmelman (Knut Berger), who’s visiting his sister Pia (Carolina Peters) in Israel. She’s taken up residence on a kibbutz, but they’re the grandchildren of a man who was a Nazi war criminal–an officer who had dealt, not kindly, with both Menachem and Eyal’s mother, but who disappeared to asylum in South America after the war, probably with the connivance of Axel and Pia’s wealthy father. Menachem suspects that the old man may still be alive, and hopes that Eyal’s surveillance will reveal his whereabouts so that he can be dealt with.
What follows is a mixture of travelogues–one of the Israeli terrain, the other of the characters’ angst-ridden psyches. Eyal and Axel visit Pia at the kibbutz and spend some time there, but also tour other areas of Israel–in the course of which Axel’s actions reveal that he’s quite openly gay (as well as a socially-conscious pacifist) and Eyal’s that he’s both guilt-ridden over his wife’s death and virulently anti-Palestinian. Eventually Menachem and Eyal’s surveillance tapes show Pia telling Axel that she’d left Germany–and refuses to return for her father’s seventieth birthday party–because she’d learned that their grandfather was still alive, protected by their parents. That prompts Menachem to send Eyal to Germany, a place he’d sworn he’d never visit, after Axel returns there. Axel welcomes him and, as part of showing him around his homeland, takes him to his father’s big celebration, where–to their, if not our, surprise–an unexpected guest shows up. Eyal then has to deal with his new-found aversion to killing, and Axel with his hatred of what his grandfather represents.
Uchovsky and Fox obviously have a lot going on here, but they fail to juggle all their concerns satisfactorily. There’s a lumpy quality to the film, with the various elements never really linking up. The overarching theme expressed in the title, and articulated by Axel at one point–that one must become truly pure in order to rise above dark passions and emotional pain–seems merely stated rather than credibly dramatized. The gay subplot, moreover, seems arbitrary rather than an integral part of things, and a scene in which Eyal intervenes when a bunch of German skinheads attack some of Axel’s friends in a Berlin underground is almost bizarrely out of left field. Equally peculiar is the epilogue, in which Eyal and Pia are happily married. Perhaps we were intended to feel their attraction earlier in the film, but if so the effort didn’t succeed. Perhaps it would have if the performances had been stronger. But Eyal’s grim determination leaves him emotionally opaque, and Peters manages a generalized attractiveness but little more. By far the most ingratiating of the lead trio is Berger, whose loose likableness makes him instantly ingratiating. But even he fails to persuasively portray Alex’s conflicting emotions at the close. Technically the film is little more than adequate, with a rough, gritty appearance that doesn’t make the most of the Israeli or the German locations.
Despite what the title suggests, “Walk on Water” doesn’t manage the unusual feat of blending all the story threads and moral overtones it tries to encompass into a satisfying whole. It ultimately sinks under the weight of an unwieldy script and uncommunicative performances.