Follow The Master

Follow The Master


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

I was about 15 minutes of cuts away from really loving this film. It's a warm, affectionate (a word that may be repeated as this review unfolds) and quixotic quest-cum-road-movie that would have made a five-star short film. Shot as a video diary. Edinburgh filmmaker Matt Hulse has distilled a simple cinematic pleasure for us all to share.

"He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster, Let him in constancy follow the Master." - Pilgrim's Progress.

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Matt Hulse, his gracious and patient girlfriend Lucy Brown and Tippy - the single most adorable doggie I have ever seen in a film - go on a 100-mile walking journey. And we follow them as they Follow The Master, where their "legs are metronomes" and "feet beaters". The titular Master is Matt's late grandfather, Eric Hulse - who died in April 2008 - and in his honour, they plan a journey down the chalky footpath following the South Downs Way. The funeral service was recorded as audio and this is interspersed at appropriate intervals.

This is a lovely film. Almost no moment of it is without some kind of sincere affectionate pleasure of its own creation. Shot in both Super8 and DV, it's pretty much the kind of stuff you can make on a nuts and bolts level for the price of a basic Macintosh. Thankfully Hulse avoids Sturgeon's Law with a movie that thrums with life and a little madness - and ostensibly avoids dull eulogising and chin-stroking introspection. His filmmaking shows intuition, based not wholly in logic but in a keen emotional sense. He places a curiously detached voice over throughout the film, in direct contrast with clever and insightful editorial work.

Early on, we have mostly POV shots, rarely seeing Matt or Lucy's face. This opens out after the first ten minutes, or 15 miles, and the film gets much more personable and lovable as a result. The film often stops in its tracks to share a collection of dissociated memories, flowing together with the texture of air.

After a while, things get more playful, even naughty with poking Lucy's bum with Eric's old shooting stick and surprising Tippy with an Evil Dead-esque Sam-o-Cam. This is all underscored with affection, breaking out into ukulele renditions of old tunes, and air-drumming with sticks - and for which Tippy goes absolutely bonkers. The film intercuts with footage of a Belgian couple they met - Nille & Jan van Os - reading extracts from their diaries. They leave cryptic messages behind - "May one walk on the tips of one's ice-skates here?"

Hitchcock was fond of saying "Drama is life without the boring bits". Follow The Master is life with only a few boring bits - a little repetition and some "out there" moments that don't fit - and yet, there is no drama. Rather, it's a pleasant way to spend time with lovely and affectionate people. The form of a diary is telling; normally, there is no audience so you can say what you like. As soon as the writing becomes public, it must have both editorial responsibility and an audience. The open sharing of the video diary has all the inspired touches of the personal scribbles in a journal, and the editorial skill to back them up.

The film is doped with a heavy-handed touch of sentimentality before the end, reading aloud from (of all things) The Ladybird Book of Prayers, giving thanks to God for these natural treasures. I guess it's natural, and good manners, to want to thank someone - anyone - for life's little pleasures. So, Matt Hulse, thank you for your movie; it is one of the best first features I have seen in some time.

Reviewed on: 19 Jun 2009
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Edinburgh-based filmmaker creates a road movie like no other.
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Director: Matt Hulse

Writer: Matt Hulse

Year: 2009

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2009

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