“Walk on Water”: Learning To Be Light In A Heavy World

by on April 16th, 2005

Eyal is an ace hit man working for the Mossad, the infamous Israeli secret service. On a mission to assassinate a Hamas leader on vacation leave to Turkey, “Walk on Water,” an Israeli Academy Award Winner of 2004 and official selection of the Toronto Film festival that same year, Eyal introduces the troubled and nuanced narrative of the conflict between Arabs and Jews in the memory of the uneasy Jewish past with Germany.

In the opening scene Eyal injects and kills the touring Hamas leader in broad day light in front of his son, who was smiling innocently a moment before. Viewing the incident, two natural tears trail his cheeks, and his expression is one of awe and incomprehension; and a rude interruption of good natured innocence. Thus begins, a captivating and multidimensional feature film, international in purview, and universal in concept.

The movie’s official site presents the following synopsis: “A hit man for Mossad [Eyal] is given the mission to track down the very old Alfred Himmelman, an ex Nazi officer, who might be still alive. Pretending to be a tourist guide he befriends his grandson Axel, in Israel to visit his sister. He wants to convince her to come back to Germany for their Fathers birthday party.

“The two men set out on an extended tour of the country during which, Axel’s frank and open attitude challenges Eyal’s rigid, clichéd values. Their friendship grows until he learns of Axel’s homosexuality. With this final straw he leaves.

To finish his mission Eyal has to go to Germany. He meets Axel once more and succeeds in being invited to the family party where secrets will be revealed.” http://www.walkonwatermovie.com/movie01.html.

That is the synopsis that led me to watch this movie: it presented a strong skeleton of a vigorous body of work, but appropriately enough, much was left to the imagination.

The feature film unstitches the quilted patchwork of the interwoven and perhaps inextricable Jewish, Arab, German sociology and presents the effect of yesterday upon today, and the effect of today upon many tomorrows.

Axel Himmelman who arrives in Israel to escort his sister back to Berlin presents a fascinating and introspective outline of the modern, educated, German youth. He is open, accepting, and humane, and represents an atoning redemption for the sins of his miscreant forefathers: the Nazis generally, and specifically, his grandfather Alfred: a notorious SS officer who assisted in the extermination of a Jewish community in Berlin during the Third Reich.

Axel’s idealism is an anachronism in Israel: a slice of land plagued by cynicism, bitterness, memory, loss, and blood as conceptualized in the charismatic Eyal: the Mossad hit man who cannot cry (he suffers from permanently dry tear ducts).

Axel’s friendship with Eyal is even more fascinating in its symbolic scope. The modern German whose grandfather killed and brutalized in a way Eyal the modern Israeli does, teaches the misguided who just so happens to be his stated historical enemy. This friendship represents the taming of arrogance and a placation of ruffled feathers. As ironic as it is, it is nevertheless the most logical and civilized alternative in a land tormented by confusion and cynicism.

A suggestion in parallelism maybe implied between the mind of the SS man and the mind of the Mossad agent: both encapsulate a resignation, bitterness, and a destructive self-neglect.

Yet, the sophistication of the movie lies in its groundedness in reality. It does not draw these characterizations as stock and simplistic. Rather, it hopes to paint a trend amongst trends, and subtleties swimming within the folds of broadness.

When Eyal visits Berlin, he experiences a clash with ruffian skinheads in a train station that assault some of Axel’s flauntingly homosexual friends. It is interesting to note Axel’s earlier comment, himself an open homosexual, about homosexuality and Germany: “East Germany was once the homosexual capital of Europe”.

Even the archetype of homosexuality is a contradiction in Axel. None would guess his homosexual nature from his ease of movement, friendliness, and simplicity of act, totally uncluttered by tale-tell sexual overtones.

The rectitude of homosexuality is not addressed. What is addressed is its liberty and acceptance. The idea is to portray a contrasting difference in light of human predispositions, limitations, and openness and exploration.

I viewed the movie in Ritz 16 here in the American Eastern coast, in Voorhees, New Jersey. I experienced not only the movie itself, but also the theater, which seemed to be occupied with a Jewish majority who seemed already as familiar with the interactive complexities of Jewish, Arab, and German societies. I inevitably intuited an audience partiality and particular sensitivity in the theater. A climate of bias coexisted in the theater along with a genuine climate of curiosity.

For instance, a woman, most likely Jewish sitting towards the left row, frequently glanced over towards me and my girlfriend, as if to wonder, “Is that boy over there an Israeli or an Arab? He doesn’t appear blonde, so he must not be German. Yet his girlfriend appears neither Israeli nor Arab. Why is he watching this movie?”

The significance of the title “Walk on Water” is the philosophy of Axel who demonstrates a saintly example in a conversation with Eyal on the Sea of Galilee: he attempts to walk on water, carefully balancing himself, attentive yet disengaged, smiling yet distant. He says something to the effect “A clean heart, free from pollution, makes you light. Then you can also walk on water.”


Alexander Rai