Above and Beyond

Movie Information

In Brief: The Asheville Jewish Film Festival's film this week is Roberta Grossman's documentary Above and Beyond — a movie about the origins of the Israeli Air Force. Since the film was produced by Steven Spielberg's sister, Nancy, it is — as you may imagine — a slick, top-notch production in every way — up to and including well-made dramatizations of some of the events depicted. This slickness may, in fact, not always be in the film's favor since it suggests a too Hollywoodized approach to the material — and the material is strong enough on its own. We are, after all, talking about a story that entails Jewish American WWII pilots — risking criminal prosecution from the U.S. government — flying in German planes (Messerschmitt 109s, to be exact) and wearing German flight suits only a few years after the war. The irony was lost on no one — and it hardly needed a high-gloss finish to help it. This, however, does not detract from the fascinating material at hand.    
Genre: Documentary
Director: Roberta Grossman
Starring: Leon Frankel, Gideon Lichtman, George Lichter, Benny Morris, Paul Reubens, Judy Rubenfeld
Rated: NR



Viewers going to see Above and Beyond hoping for an in-depth, even-handed examination of the origins of Israel should scale back those hopes — a lot. This is undeniably a fascinating film about a fascinating group of men in an extraordinary situation, but on any deeper political level, it’s simplistic in the extreme. Accept it for what it is, however, and it’s impressive — and it’s most certainly entertaining. We are, after all, talking about a movie where among the interviewees we find Paul Reubens talking about his pilot dad. It’s the sort of thing you couldn’t make up. Much the same can be said about many of the events addressed — from Frank Sinatra offering to smuggle money to setting up a bogus Panamanian airline to get planes out of America. And none of that factors in the business of the German planes. As stories go, this one is pretty wild.




But apart from the outrageous nature of the story and all the state-of-the-art ILM recreations of historical events, the core of the film ends up being the surviving pilots talking about their experiences. A lot of this is humorous in nature. The pilots don’t paint themselves as anything like saints, and many of their “war stories” center on drinking, carousing, and womanizing — things that didn’t make them popular with the locals. But other things, like the stories of fallen comrades lend a sobering tone, as do their memories of the then-prevalent anti-Semitism in the U.S.

The Asheville Jewish Film Festival and the Fine Arts Theatre present Above and Beyond for two showings — Thursday, May 14, at 7 p.m. and Friday, May 15, at 1 p.m. at Fine Arts Theatre.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.