- Walk on Water (Lalechet al ha-mayim)
Eytan Fox’s filmic Bildungsroman of sorts tells the story of Eyal, a hardened Israeli Mossad agent and professional killer. Over the course of the film, Eyal, played by Lior Ashkenazi in another stellar performance, is reeducated, ‘rehumanized’ and transformed from a killer into a loving husband, father and kibbutznik.
In the film’s opening sequence, Eyal kills a Hamas leader. After he returns to Israel, however, he receives a different task: He must track down an aged Nazi who had been hiding in Argentina for decades but has now resurfaced in Germany. To find his target, Eyal poses as a tour guide for Axel, the Nazi’s grandson. Axel, who believes his grandfather died at the end of the war, has traveled to Israel to visit his sister, Pia, who works in a kibbutz. Pia broke off all ties to her family when she learned that her parents both helped her grandfather escape and continued to support him financially.
Pia’s utter rejection of her grandfather does not reflect the complexity of the relationships between many members of the third generation of post-war Germans and their grandparents found in, for example, H. Welzer’s study Opa war kein Nazi. The coincidence that Pia lives in Israel and Axel comes to visit may stretch credulity, but in fairness, films are not life.
Although Eyal initially rejects his orders and also remains skeptical towards Axel – which Axel’s open homosexuality only exacerbates – Eyal and Axel become unlikely friends. In a deviation from the heterocentric, kitsch formula of romance as German-Jewish reconciliation, it is Axel, not the blonde German shiksa, Pia, who reeducates Eyal and prepares him for the film’s seemingly overtly sentimental ending: the marriage of Eyal and Pia and the birth of their son, Tom. To facilitate this formulaic happy ending, two significant events beyond Eyal’s transformation must occur: Eyal’s Israeli wife, Iris, commits suicide, and the Nazi grandfather is killed. It is not Eyal, however, who kills him, but Axel, who switches off the oxygen supply while his grandfather, arrived from exile as a surprise guest for Axel’s father’s birthday party, sleeps in Axel’s parents’ house. [End Page 99]
As a Jewish assassin, Eyal reverses the (post-) Holocaust roles of Jewish victim and Nazi or Hamas killer. In her suicide note, Iris furthermore accuses Eyal of killing everything that comes close to him. His responsibility for Iris’ death means that one of Eyal’s victims is herself Jewish, a situation that aligns him structurally with the Nazi and Hamas killers he hunts.
Axel’s subject position is also highly complex and contradictory. While Axel’s killing of his grandfather expresses his total rejection of the Third Reich, it also establishes a parallel between them as murderers, one which is exacerbated when the otherwise wise, gentle, altruistic and liberal Axel expresses rage and the wish for the death of all Neo-Nazis. Furthermore, this act also establishes a complex analogy between Axel and Eyal. Not only does Axel become a killer, but he kills in Eyal’s place when Eyal no longer can, because Axel reeducated him in a liberal-humanistic mode. The reeducation process thus does not simply rehumanize Eyal; instead, each of the two protagonists takes on the other’s characteristics. However, one could still argue that Axel remains essentially good because, in murdering his grandfather, he acts on Eyal’s behalf and thus performs an altruistic act. The film’s penultimate scene supports this interpretation: Eyal tells Axel that he can no longer kill, hugs Axel in a childlike manner, and cries as Axel holds Eyal like a comforting parent. Axel has thus relieved Eyal of the burden of being a killer by killing in his stead, fulfilling the tabooed Jewish revenge fantasy of killing a Nazi killer. However, when Axel kills his grandfather, he also transposes the film’s initial role reversal - a Jewish killer and a good, innocent German - back to those enacted in the Holocaust: German killer and good, innocent Jew.