Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Walk on Water

Walk on Water (2004) [Hebrew title: Lalehket al HaMayim] is an Israeli film by director Eytan Fox, set in the midst of the Second Intifada, in 2002.  A crack Mossad hitman, Eyal, (Lior Ashkenazi) returns from a successful hit against a Hamas operative to find that his wife has committed suicide.  His handler, Menachem (Gideon Shemer) believes that he is more upset than he claims to be, and gives him an “easier” assignment, hunting down an aging Nazi by pretending to be a tour guide for his young grandson, Axel (Knut Berger).  Supposedly the old man is dead, but Menachem has come to believe that he was smuggled away from justice after the war, and he is still alive.

Eyal becomes more involved than he intends with the young man and with his sister, Pia, who has been living for years on a kibbutz in the Israeli countryside.  Before all is said and done, the film wrangles with the aftermath of the Holocaust, its connections to current events in Israel, Israeli-Palestinian relations, terrorism, and homophobia.  It is a tall order, and a complicated film. To Fox’s credit, it is mostly successful in its attempt to tackle such challenging material:  it was nominated not only for nine awards in 2004 by the Israeli Film Academy, winning three, but also nominated in 2006 for the much-coveted Cesar Award (France) for Best Foreign Film.

Commentary

Much has been written about the connections between the trauma of the Holocaust and the present-day responses of Israelis to security threats.  This film focuses on these tensions within one man, who has a fierce love of his own country and yet who is growing sick of killing.   It is also a testament to the power of relationship to transform lives.

The film also does an excellent job of capturing the feeling in Israel during the Second Intifada.  It was a very strange mixture of normal life going forward, regularly punctuated by horrific bombings.

Questions for Discussion

1.  Why does Menachem send Eyal after the old Nazi?

2.  What do you think of the ethics of Eyal pretending to be a tour guide to get close to Pia and Axel to find out about their grandfather?

3.  Should the Nazi have had a trial, or is it just simply to assassinate him? Should Eyal have followed orders?  What do you think about Axel’s action?

4.  In the opening of the film, Eyal kills without a second thought, after smiling at the child of the man he is about to kill.  In Berlin, he twice has the opportunity to kill and does not.  What happened to change him?

5.  What did you think about Eyal’s attitude and behavior in the incident of the coat?  Why did he behave as he did?  Was he wrong or right?  Why?

6.  What changes Eyal’s attitude about Axel’s homosexuality?

7.  At the end of the film, is Eyal still working for Mossad?  Why do you think so, or why not?

Advertisements

Kissing Jessica Stein

kissing-jessica-stein-10000648Kissing Jessica Stein (2001) is a  romantic comedy about two women who, for different reasons, decide to try dating women instead of men.  Jessica Stein (played by Jennifer Westfeldt) is 28 and a nervous perfectionist, and she is feeling desperate about finding “the One.”   Helen Cooper (Heather Juergensen) is a free spirit who decides to place a personals ad, and throws in a Rilke quotation on the advice of a gay male friend.  Jessica sees the quotation, and despite her unease at the idea of dating a woman, decides this is a possible soulmate. On this shaky beginning builds a relationship — and a film — that investigates the risk/reward ratios of love and life.

Tovah Feldshuh gives a standout performance as Jessica’s mother, a role which initially embodies the “Jewish mother” stereotype but gradually reveals a heart and soul that may make viewers wish for a mother like her.    Many of the characters in the film develop along similar lines:  we think we know them, and then we get to know them a little better.  In the case of the Jessica’s generation, they get to know themselves better.  It’s a fine screenplay, and in an interesting turn of art and life, it was written by the two women who play the leads, Westfeldt and Juergenson.

Kissing Jessica Stein won awards from major film festivals and was well-received by critics.

Commentary

So, you are wondering, why is this film on the “Jewish Film” list at all?  Jessica is a Jew.  Her family is a Jewish family, and the picture we get of them is much more real and warm than the caricature we usually see in American films.  We see this Jewish family in many of the places where families gather:  at High Holy Day services, at Shabbat dinner, at a family wedding.

The depiction of her mother is strikingly different from the stock character that is usually trotted out by filmmakers and comics:  one cannot help but notice that this film was written by women, not by men.   She is anxious for her daughter to marry, and is constantly setting up ambushes with men she thinks are eligible, but she is a wise woman who genuinely loves her daughter, and who knows a thing or two about love.

Jessica Stein is a Jew and Helen Cooper is not.  Once Jessica’s family becomes aware of Helen, they try very hard to be welcoming of this lesbian (!) non-Jew (!) and they make most of the usual missteps, on both counts.  Their goodwill is obvious, though, and the small scenes in which Helen tries to fit in and they try to make a place for her would make an interesting jumping-off spot for discussion.  While the interfaith angle is not a major focus of the film, everything in the film about it is quite good.

That said, Kissing Jessica Stein avoids a serious discussion that it could have had (but then, it wouldn’t be a comedy.)  Helen  is looking more for interesting sex than for love.  Jessica is looking for someone “perfect,” and the subject of love doesn’t seem to have occurred to her.  Neither woman is really looking for love, and when they stumble into it, they… stumble.  What truly went wrong here, and was it really only the most obvious thing?