WATERMARKS (Yaron Zilberman). 77 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (June 3). For venues and times, see Movies, page 175. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
First-time feature director Yaron Zilberman knows he's got a great subject in Watermarks . Too bad he doesn't dive deeply enough into the material.
Zilberman rounds up several surviving members of Austria's legendary Hakoah women's swim team for a final lap in the pool where they trained and competed, some 65 years after they fled the Nazis.
He opens by introducing us to the feisty octogenarians in their adopted homelands (England, Israel and the U.S.). Understandably most of them feel ambivalent about returning to Vienna, where painful memories are bound to resurface.
The Hakoah ("strength" in Hebrew) was created in 1909 because Austrian sports clubs banned Jewish athletes. The women swimmers were so strong that they dominated Austria's Olympic team, even though some of them boycotted the Berlin Olympics.
There's lots of rich material under the surface: the athletic prowess of a people celebrated mostly for their cultural and intellectual achievements; how the successes spat in the face of propaganda about Aryan superiority; the role of women in Jewish society.
The women make terrific camera subjects, especially the blunt Ann Marie Pisker , who insists she not be photographed in her bathing suit. It's not every day that you see groups of 80-something women cooing over old photos of men's water polo players.
Another telling moment is the argument between one woman and a young cab driver over what constitutes a native Viennese.
But the doc's money shot is surely the women's symbolic swim. Here, the film becomes a moving meditation on aging, survival and humanity.