'Water' cheesy but enthralling

Imagine going in to see your therapist and having him tell you the following story: One of his patients — a former special agent in the Israeli secret service — begins therapy after the suicide of his wife. At first frustrated by the treatment, which is being imposed upon him by his superiors, the agent slowly lets go of his self-hatred and prejudices and falls in love again, this time with a man. After several months, the homosexual affair fizzles out, but it results in the agent’s falling in love with his lover’s sister, whom he eventually marries.

After hearing that story, wouldn’t you want to make a movie?
Patrick g. Ryan
Director Eytan Fox.

“Walk on Water,” the latest creation by rising director Eytan Fox, is an aggressive attempt to do just that — and more. In slightly more than an hour and a half — and in three different languages (Hebrew, German and English) — Fox unabashedly takes on the war on terror, the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gay-straight issues, suicide, depression and assassination.

As he says himself, “I focused on the social policy, but mixed it with romance and hopefulness.”

The movie begins with Eyal (well-known Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi) carrying out an assassination and going home to find his wife dead. In her suicide note, she tells him he has lost all touch with his feelings and become so cold he cannot even cry — the irony being that Eyal has a tear-duct condition, which makes it impossible for him to cry.

Put on mandatory trauma leave, he is assigned to play tour guide to a young, gay German, Axel (Knut Berger), who is visiting his sister (Caroline Peters). The siblings are the grandchildren of an infamous Nazi war criminal whom Eyal’s boss — a concentration-camp survivor — believes is still alive. He’s right, of course, but by the time the viewer finds that out, so much else is going on that the whole revenge question has become a subplot.

The overall result is an emotional patchwork that is both off-putting and enthralling. You have to admire the cinematography (featuring scenes from both Israel and Berlin), the brilliant acting and the scope of the film. At the same time, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow over the Disney-perfect happy ending and the numerous clich�s sprinkled from beginning to end.

But Fox has learned to take criticism of the touchy-feely aspects of his movie with a shrug and a smile. In Israel, critics called the film “too American” and mocked the happy ending. To them, “it is bad to be hopeful about life,” he said.

Going on to explain his inspirations and the origins of the movie, Fox talked about his four years of military service in Israel and what he perceives as the rigid nature of Israeli society. “When I was growing up in Israel, there was only one way to be a man: tough, straight ... a man who’s willing to go to war,” he explained. “Men were all expected to be a certain way. You had to become harsh,” much like the character of Eyal.

Other influences include his mother, whom he describes as being “very New York,” something he found particularly embarrassing as a boy. At the same time, though, he felt that she struggled with her American origins — the family moved to Israel from Chicago when Fox was 3 — and was always trying to be “more Israeli than Israel.”

Fox has since come to value what once made him ashamed: “Now I’m here talking about the film, it makes me think about how we were strangers, and I feel like that may have given me a different perspective.”

“We have this Jewish saying, ‘Don’t wash the dirty laundry outside the house,’” he continued. “It has turned us into emotional cripples. We can’t see the suffering of Palestinians 20 miles away. It’s not like here. [In Israel, you drive] 20 minutes and there’s the enemy.

“I want people to overcome their fears. We’re not the victims anymore.”

Which is why Fox has used his films to raise the questions that make his fellow Israelis most uncomfortable — not just one or two, but all of them at once. And, while it may often seem like too much, in listening to him talk about his film it becomes clear that much of the storyline is drawn from his own eclectic life and the lives of people directly around him — much like the story told to him by his therapist.

And though that doesn’t completely save “Walk on Water” from being just a touch cheesy, it does remind the cynics among us that, on occasion, the romantic’s version of life is the real one.