Der Tagesspiegel - February 11, 200

Please Shoot the Grandfather

Heavy carpets lower the noise of the steps on the polished parquet, the staff wears nice black-and-white. People have dressed themselves up: Patent leather shoes shine, chandeliers glitter and low necklines sparkle expensive. Axel came for the 60th birthday of his father, an industrial tycoon from Berlin, and has just returned from a journey to his sister who lives in a Kibbutz in Israel. From there he has brought a surprise: An Israeli folk dance. For the family that is a provocation and the mother leaves the room piqued. But the real surprise of the evening is still to come. When the grandfather, who is believed to be dead a long time, enters the room in a wheelchair, Axel can almost not believe his eyes. The grandfather has been hiding in South America - he was internationally trailed, as he is an old Nazi and a known war criminal.

The Past drives in a wheelchair

In this tense atmosphere somebody in a jumper shouts "Cut!" and says "Doing it again please!. From the beginning, please." The less elegantly dressed tall man is the real boss of the evening, which in fact is a film set with actors and extras. The title of the thriller is "Walking on Water" and the shooting takes place in Berlin. Its director is called Eytan Fox. The filmmaker, born 1964, is one of the stars of the young and upcoming Israeli cinema. His short film "Gotta have heart" won the short film price at the New York New Film Festival in 1999, "Shirat Ha' Sirena" (Das Lied der Sirene), a comedy taking place in the time of the Gulf War, was screened in the Panorama section of the Berlinale in 1995. The film was a huge hit in Israel.

At the current Berlinale Eytan Fox is also represented with a film. Yossi & Jagger is about a group of young Israeli soldiers who protect the border in the snow of the Israeli mountains. The young women and men fulfil their military service with the carelessness of a school trip. Eating, drinking, dancing and making jokes in the barracks, and with this the film slowly develop the particularities of the characters. The young commander Yossi loves his almost same aged subordinate Jagger, but can't come out with his homosexuality within the military regalement.

Fox's focus is especially on the outsiders of the group who got thrown together by political-military circumstances, but throughout the film it gets clear that everybody is an outsider in this society who tries to play a role for coping with the daily threat. The film shows almost incidental everyday life, of which nothing is really common because sudden death is a daily threat hanging over the small, isolated group - which can be seen as an allegory for the state Israel. With this film Eytan Fox returns to his origins as his debut film "Time off" from 1990 that dealt with the sexual identity of young soldiers in the Israeli army.

Fox is a tall man with short hair and suntanned skin. He seems distressed, but this is no wonder. He commutes between Dahlem and Potdamer Platz, between the film set and the Festival for days now, plus between Germany and Israel. Fox was born in New York and came to Israel at the age of two. He got to know Germany as exchange student in Karlsruhe. "That was a weird experience", he says today. "I grew up with the awareness of being on the good side". This awareness stayed throughout the education from Holocaust ceremony to military service. "The Germans were always the 'Bad' for me: tall, blond women and men without any humour". But the Germans he met as an exchange student were totally different: "Progressive, socially engaged, cosmopolitan". Then his view on the world got shook up: "The Israelis didn't seem as the 'Good' to me anymore; I realized that we ourselves resembled the cliche of the 'Bad Germans': born for heroism, ready to follow orders, to be tough and never to cry."

Fox couldn't and wouldn't correspond to this ideal of masculinity, which got strengthened in the military service. His films deal with inner conflicts like these: his current Berlinale film as well as his film project "Walking on Water", which is shot in Berlin at the moment. It tells the story about two young men who couldn't be more different. Eyal (portrayed by the Israeli film star Lior Ashkenazi) is a Mossad agent and an Israeli Macho.

A view on the world gets shaken

When he gets the order to follow the young Homosexual Axel (Knut Berger), his view of the world gets shaken. Eyal is supposed to creep into Axel's friendship to track down Axel's grandfather, a notorious Nazi-perpetrator. But the two become friends and when Axel's grandfather surprisingly appears at the birthday party, Eyal is confronted with the most difficult decision of his life. The Mossad wants him to kill the grandfather of his new German friend.

The location in Berlin-Dahlem is the set for the key scene of this story. Fox cleverly combines again a thrilling plot with political-historical, high-explosive background. The inner change of the military educated Mossad agent is to a big part based on the own biography of the filmmaker. The unusual story will not arouse discussions only in Israel as it breaks a lot of cliches. The budget for this production is around one million Euro. Although the team is international, the film won't be an Israeli-German Co-Production.

The German Associate Producer Tatjana Jakovleski tried to get German public funding until the last moment - without success. Yet Nordrhein-Westfalia (German region) sets an example at present: The Israeli Film Fund and Nordrhein-Westfalia just closed a Film Co-operation. For Jakovleski a model that could be transferred to this region: "Such an exchange wouldn't be good only for international relations but the suffering film location Berlin-Brandenburg". Fox also would like to work more with Germans. Meanwhile the team is in a fever with the Berlinale screening - whenever the tight schedule allows it. A festival prize could also smooth the way for future Co-Productions.