Back in the mid-90’s I shared a flat with a bouncy blonde German girl named Elke. Since we had clubbing, cute boys and crap waitressing jobs in common, we never got around to discussing the uncomfortable subject of where our grandparents had been during WWII.
Elke was a liberal, compassionate Californian just like the rest of our patchuoli-lovin’ roommates. She always shared the chocolate her sister sent sent her from Hamburg. I couldn’t just flat out ask if her relatives were Nazis; we already had one chick who liked to do naked yoga in the living room and that caused enough household tension. So we never talked about it.
Several years later Elke flew in from Germany and stood next to me in the synagogue at my wedding (along with four other really tall, blond bridesmaids. What can I say? I collect shiksas. Later someone told me my cousin started humming “Ride of the Valkyries” as they swooped down the aisle.) Her German-ness and my Jewish-ness never clashed and often mixed, but I wonder if she had private thoughts about what her grandparents would think of her standing next to a chuppah. (She now runs a wine shop in Hamburg. I suppose I could still ask; but whereas before it seemed indelicate, it now seems blatantly rude.)
I thought about Elke a lot while watching Walk On Water, Eyton Fox’s Israeli thriller about a cranky Mossad agent (played by hunky Lior Ashkenazi) assigned to act as a tour guide for a German brother and sister duo who happen to be the grandchildren of an infamous Nazi butcher. Lo and behold, the young Germans are liberal, open-minded (the sister lives on a kibbutz, the brother wants to visit Palestinian neighborhoods) and disgusted by their country’s past crimes. The Israeli, still grieving from the suicide of his wife, is suspicious, homophobic and rabidly protective of the anger that drives him. When he finds out the brother is gay, he’s even more uncomfortable and annoyed that he likes these Germans so much.
The German siblings must come to terms with the evil in their blood, and they do so quite willingly. But that’s only one of the layers in the film: Fox attempts to synthesize many cultural issuesretribution, Israeli machismo, homosexuality, intermarriage within the plot as well as show us some incredible cinematography of the Holy Land. He pulls it off, mostly. The dialogue (some English, some Hebrew, some German) is a little stunted, but the actors manage to do a fine job of it. Askenazi’s smoldering pain needs few words, anyway.
Definitely one to see if you’re renting this weekend. I thought I might e-mail Elke and tell her I saw this interesting movie about Germans and Jews…maybe that would spark the conversation I’ve been waiting to have with her all these years.