Thoughts As They Arrive
Can deconstruction reconstruct?
The cleverness of post-modern art, once dedicated to reflecting the world’s chaos, has perhaps encouraged it. You can provide your own list of films, shows and ads in which the voice-over is deliberately ironic, the visual style itchily restless, the self-reference constant.
Some of this could be said of Further Beyond. The film is concerned with Ambrosio O’Higgins, an 18th Century emigrant from Ireland who became Governor of Chile. Faced with the vastness of the project, Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor chose instead to make a film about the vastness of the project. Instead of a stately biopic, richly and expensively enclosed in realism, we get a film which breaks down its own process, to the extent of demonstrating how the process can, in fact, break down. Out of this selfconscious form springs something unexpected: a glimmering sense of history.
What’s more, for all the film’s jumps and interruptions, revisions and indecisions, it is not jittery. Remarkably calm and urbane, in fact, suffused with a wry melancholy about the complexities of life and film.
I won’t try to explain it all here, because I really think it’s worth seeing (twice), but in short: along with many teasing images, landscapes, reconstructions and the odd interview, we spend a lot of time with two skilled, quietly charismatic actors who do the voice-over narration. That is, we’re witness to a fictional version of their recording session. As we're watching them - through a peculiarly cinematic type of theatre - create images through words, we also watch the windows behind them as the sky outside the studio grows gradually darker. And the voice actors themselves shift rôles: sometimes they’re omniscient, sometimes warily professional, sometimes the personal voice of the film-makers. And the film-makers - unsurprisingly, because it takes a very long time to get a film off the ground - get distracted. The story of Ambrosio O’Higgins is interrupted, and finally matched, by the story of Joe Lawlor’s mother Helen. As this unpretending woman appears on screen, alive as can be, we’re faced with the endlessness of recorded art: she’s still there, live history.
Are you following? Probably not, because to explain the film is much harder than to watch it. But astonishingly, with all the apparent confusion of what story the film-makers should tell, the twin narratives converge. Between adventurers Helen Lawlor and Ambrosio O’Higgins rises the phantom of time, passing before us.
And, of course, with us. While we observe time past, our own clocks are running. The effect of the film is not only to surprise and make us laugh, but finally to move us.
So yes, in the hands of really good artists, metatextual games can be serious. There are echoes here of the writers WG Sebald, Geoff Dyer and American film essayist Ross McElwee: all artists who wander off the path, both to make the path palpable and to show us what we’ve missed by sticking to it.
Further Beyond is currently on MUBI and Amazon Prime.
Written & Directed by Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor.
Actors: Alan Howley, Denise Gough (voice actors); Jose Miguel Jimenez (O'Higgins); Aidan Gillen