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Walk on Water

(2005) *** Unrated
104 min. Samuel Goldwyn Films. Director: Eytan Fox. Cast: Lior Louie Ashkenazi, Knut Berger, Caroline Peters, Gidon Shemer, Carola Regnier.

In the flawed but compelling mystery-drama Walk on Water, Israeli director Eytan Fox and screenwriter Gal Uchovsky allow their characters to engage in overt and internal conflict on a breadth of social and political issues. Characters strive to resolve the hurtful past (Nazism and the Israeli-Arab conflict) and mask the secrets of the present. More than a few elephants crowd into these rooms (and roam by historical settings like the Bosporous Bridge and the Wailing Wall) as a thriller plot keeps the narrative simmering.

Lior Ashkenazi, the magnetic star of Late Marriage, plays Eyal, a laconic Mossad special agent who specializes in no-fuss assassination. His supervisor, a fatherly obsessive played by Gidon Shemer, doggedly assigns him to track one of the last of the Nazi war criminals. Per his boss's suggestion, Eyal poses as a tour guide to ingratiate himself with the old Nazi's blithe grandchildren: Pia (Carolina Peters) and Axel (Knut Berger). Both, as it turns out, respond to Eyal's rugged, tightly wound demeanor.

It's part of Eyal's job to chat up Pia and Axel in the hope of sifting vital information, but to his marks, he appears to be flirting; after a while, Eyal may not be able to tell the difference himself. Circumstances lead him to spend more time with Axel, and as they tour sites like the Sea of Galilee, the two banter and worm into prickly personal and cultural issues. Axel touches a particularly raw nerve with recent widower Eyal when he whisks Eyal and Pia to a gay bar and makes off with a waiter. Eyal's apparently homophobic reaction looks an awful lot like jealousy.

Interest never wanes as this story unfolds, though Uchovsky starts a lot more than he can finish satisfactorily in 104 minutes. Walking on water becomes a metaphor for the pure and seemingly unattainable banishment of negativity. The filmmakers attempt to belabor the point in the end, though the issues are thoroughly muddled by then: an upbeat tone accompanies dubious choices on the parts of the characters. Still, the acting is excellent, and Fox provides winning comic relief in the form of musical counterpoint (The Boss's "Tunnel of Love" and Esther and Abi Ofarim's "Cinderella Rockafella" are highlights) while keeping Uchovsky's ideas percolating for most of the running time.

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