In a conventional spy film, the main character is frequently an assassin. The conflict usually involves external or antagonistic forces attempting to foil the protagonist’s mission. Eytan Fox’s film “Walk on Water” features a trained killer, a political subtext, and philosophical intrigue, but it’s an atypical spy film. Whereas emotional sensitivity threatens the well-being of other assassins, for the lead character “Walk on Water” it is an integral part of personal growth. Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) is an Israeli secret agent who is assigned to track down the whereabouts of Alfred Himmelman (Ernest Lenart), a Nazi who may or may not still be hiding out in Argentina. To ascertain the necessary information, Eyal poses as a tour guide for Himmelman’s grandson Axel (Knut Berger), who comes to Israel to visit his sister Pia (Caroline Peters). It’s supposed to be a routine job, but things become complicated as Eyal spends more time with the grandchildren of a Nazi who killed nearly every Jew in a German town during World War II.
This storyline establishes a course of action but it is only one component of the overall narrative. “Walk on Water” addresses cultural stereotypes (Israeli men are impossible), political tension (Jews and Germans), and sexuality (Axel is gay) by depicting this trio of characters as more than elements of a story. Eyal, for instance, isn’t just an agent conflicted by his job obligation and his increasingly humanistic view of the “targets.” He’s also a husband grieving over his wife Iris’s (Natali Shilman) suicide. Pia and Axel aren’t just representative of the generation of Germans who have to live with knowing that their grandparents (may) have contributed to the extermination of Jews. Pia happily lives and works in a kibbutz, signifying a move to focus on the future (as opposed to dwelling on what has already happened and cannot be undone). Axel lends a voice to the postwar attitude of the German youth. World War II is in the past and has nothing to do with them.
The ideological implications of who these characters are and how they think are significant. Eyal identifies with and understands why his boss Menachem (Gideon Shemer) wants Himmelman found and killed, but he is willing to let the Nazi die of old age, which suggests being open to the idea of letting go of the past. Pia is ashamed of her familial connections to those atrocities. She left Berlin to separate herself from that reality and to move on with her life. Axel represents the idea of involuntary detachment. He didn’t choose to distance himself from his country’s history; he learned to do it in school. The film discusses these issues without forgetting its premise. The director skillfully maintains steady pacing, incorporates scenes of Israel’s geography and landmarks, and explores human interaction at its most awkward, tense, and beautiful.