The ultimate Jewish joke remains Groucho Marx's legendary crack that he'd never want to belong to a club that would accept someone like him as a member. Beyond neatly reducing a world of pain, despair, and rejection into flippant, smart-ass comedy, the line speaks volumes about Jews' historical role as ostracized outsiders. The well-intentioned but ultimately sleepy documentary Watermark documents a club Jews were proud to be able to join: the Hakoah sports club, a large, dynamic Jewish sports organization that flourished in Austria before World War II, dominating women's swimming events in particular. The Holocaust predictably ended the club's reign, but its members were able to escape continental Europe, emigrating around the globe. Some 65 years later, director Yaron Zilberman decided to reunite surviving members for a dip in the Viennese swimming pool that played host to so many of the club's glory days.
Yes, it's like VH1's Bands Reunited for historical sports buffs! But when it comes to guiltily pleasurable reunions, the Hakoah women swimmers sadly don't measure up to Scandal or even New Kids On The Block. These days, there are more Jews in the owners' boxes than on the field in professional sports, so it's nice to see such hearty models of Jewish athleticism. The vintage photos and footage of the swimmers are also magnetic, reveling in the women's stunning physical grace and coy flirtatiousness. But Watermarks treads meekly around the surface of their story, delivering a Cliffs Notes version of the club's history through distractingly goofy voiceovers and skirting innocuously around many of the loaded topics brought up by its subject. There are times when the grim specter of the Holocaust reappears in the present, temporarily raising the documentary beyond the level of fawning hagiography, but too much of the film is devoted to home-video-level footage of nice old grandma types making small talk or kibitzing about the past. Well-intentioned and exceedingly nice, Watermarks aspires to warm the soul, but succeeds only in numbing the mind.