The idea centres on Ambrose O’Higgins, an Irish tenant farmer who escaped Ireland for Cadiz before moving on to Chile, becoming the governor-general there in the late 18th century. However, the idea is to concentrate on his lesser known early years, which they, through a narration read out by voiceover artists Gough and Howley (shot deliberately blandly in a studio setting), admit is a 'tough sell'. They patch together a birth in Sligo, the New Model Army forcing his family from the land, his desire for adventure and his arrival in Cadiz where he's celebrated as a man of intellect.
But wait. In a dual narrative there's an exploration of Lawlor's mother Helen, who too embarked on an adventure into the unknown some sixty years previously. On a solo journey, she made her way from Ireland to New York where she, like O'Higgins, underwent a reinvention, changing her accent, clothes, hair. While one works to marry the two stories and the thematic tangents Further Beyond is prone to shoot off on, there's also the job of getting into the meta stuff, like searching for locations and wondering if it’s important to shoot in the same locations O'Higgins grew up in. And finding a 'name' actor to play O’Higgins to sell the project to financiers. A heady brew indeed.
"Why couldn’t they leave everything as it was, unedited?" So says an interviewer when she talked to Irish documentarian Robert Flaherty when he admitted that he was reluctant to leave his footage for his 1942 documentary The Land untouched. One feels that that's the approach Irish directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy had in mind here. A documentary on the making of a documentary, but really a pitch for a biopic, Further Beyond comes across as notes-on-celluloid as the director-writers chase down a subject, a narrative, a theme. All their ideas are up there on screen warts and all.
I’ve been following the duo's career with interest. They first caught the eye with the dreamy mystery short Joy, which was then expanded into their equally strange first feature length Helen. Then came the Aidan Gillen-starring Thailand-set grief-ridden drama Mister John, which again exhibited their willingness to work against narrative convention. But none of these prepare one for Further Beyond: in something akin to Pat Collins' Living In A Coded Land, the personal, the social, the political, the historical – they're all scooped up and dumped on one's lap to sift through, to make sense of (I’ve no idea what this means but it feels right).
Further Beyond doesn't always work but with its brave deconstruction of the 'rules' it is an original piece. More power to Lawlor and Molloy and roll on their next one.