Exploring Masculinity and Modern Views of Israeli’s, Eytan Fox Discusses “Walk on Water”
by Gary M. Kramer
Eytan Fox‘s “Walk on Water” is an action film/character study about Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi of “Late Marriage”), a Nazi hunter, who befriends the gay grandson Axel (Knut Berger) of the man he is assigned to kill.
Yet Fox, who helmed the poignant DV “Yossi and Jagger”, about two Israeli soldiers having a secret affair, avoided the temptation to make “Walk on Water” a slick romantic political thriller. Instead, he, along with his longterm companion Gal Uchovsky — who wrote the screenplay — crafted a much more personal film, one concerned with exploring issues of masculinity, and attitudes of Israelis.
The filmmaker, who was born in New York, but lives and works in Israel, got the idea for “Walk on Water” from a story his therapist told him about a man working for Massad who left the agency after his wife committed suicide. When the man entered a university, he unexpectedly fell in love with another man, and their relationship allowed him to grieve for his loss, and live life in a new way. This trajectory is mirrored in the film as Eyal’s relationship with Axel as well as Axel’s sister, Pia (Caroline Peters), helps him overcome the stress of his wife’s suicide, and the strain of having to perform the job of an assassin. It also raises questions about the lives of children of Nazis.
Fox met with indieWIRE to discuss “Walk on Water” and talk about why this film stems so much from the director’s own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about these themes.
indieWIRE: Why did you make this film, what appealed to you about this story?
Eytan Fox: When I heard the story from my therapist, I really identified with what this man was going through — that he needed this relationship with a man who was so different than he was. He was expected from a very young age — as many Israelis are — to become a certain kind of man. He had to close so many sides of his personality, and become a ‘warrior.’ He needed to meet a man who is the same species as he is, but so different, that [he] can pose an alternative. Being a man does not necessary mean being a tough macho Israeli warrior.
iW: Masculinity is a recurring theme in your films. Why is machismo so important to you/Israelis?
EF: You and I are men. Figuring out what “Being a Man” means for us is a very important part of who — and what — we are. In Israel, it always meant — and a lot of that is still true — there was only one kind of man you could be, there were no alternatives, no options. If you were from a good family, you were supposed to be a successful soldier at 18 and be strong, and prepared to protect your wife and family, or family and children, and be prepared to die for your country.
iW: You, however, are a gay man who grew up in and lives in Israel. Do you feel you could become that typical, expected Israeli man?
EF: Well, in my case, it was difficult for me — I didn’t want to be [that man]. People have to, and some of them make themselves do, and they become crazy, or commit suicide. Some of them become these “impossible” men — like Eyal in the film — that women have to marry.
iW: In addition to exploring a crisis of masculinity, “Walk on Water” also addresses a political issue of Nazi hunting. Why did you choose to tackle this subject — of Israelis’ obsession with the past — in the same film?
EF: I think that what happened is that we grew up with the Holocaust within us. It turned us into harsh, emotionally incapable people who have become blind to what they are doing to other people. A lot of times, Holocaust abuse justifies terrible things done to the Palestinians. And you have to realize that what is going on is terrible, and that we are responsible, and we have to take responsibility — even if we are not completely responsible.
iW: Do you have pity for children of Nazis?
EF: Yes — children, grandchildren. The third generation — those are people that I know, they were born guilty and they have this terrible burden on their shoulders. Do we give the [guy who assassinated Rabin] the right to get married or have a child? Think of this child who is born in an Israeli world — and he is the son of the guy who killed the prime minister and who fucked up our world, and brought us all this war.
iW: Do you feel that attitudes towards children of Nazis are changing in Israel?
EF: Caroline Peters’ grandfather was a Nazi — and she talked about it [on TV]. She [feared] that people [in Israel] were going to realize that she was the granddaughter of a famous Nazi. She went into this clothes shop, and the [shopgirl] said, “Oh, you’re from that movie, you have a Nazi grandfather, Cool!” That is how strange the young generation in Israeli is. They know less, and supposedly care less about the Holocaust. If you are grown up, though, you realize growing up that this reaction, “Cool,” is more difficult.
iW: What are the attitudes today towards Germans/Germany in Israel?
EF: People are always suspicious, but still trusting in many ways. I had this experience… [voice becomes hushed, and rushed] When I was a kid, I was in a folk dance troupe, and it was 1978, and we decided to go perform in Germany. I was very excited to go perform abroad, but we were really frightened, because we thought we would go meet tall, blonde aggressive evil people. What we met were these amazing, sweet, politically correct, environmentally conscious, aware people. It was so interesting to me that I grew up [afraid of them] and they were so nice. And that is part of what the movie is trying to say. We have to learn how to stop being afraid of people who are different than us, who are supposedly our enemies. We are taught that our enemies are there, not that people want to live in peace. They don’t want to fight. They just want to live and enjoy life and accomplish things.
iW: So, then, in your opinion, are things improving?
EF: It is very complicated. It is so sad how hatred is a seed we planted in the hearts of kids. We are going to be working for years and years to try and fix this.
iW: In the film, Axel talks about having “a pure heart.” This is the crux of what you and your characters are talking about; what needs to be developed. Do you feel that is where you are in your life right now?
EF: Hmmm… it is a struggle, but it is one that I think that people who are the struggling type have throughout life. What is important, what isn’t important, and how do you clean yourself from all of the unimportant things. And then you can be content, and feel good with life, which is metaphorically speaking, “walking on water.”