The Truffle Hunters (12A)
The Truffle Hunters (12A)
Director: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Cast: Piero Botto, Sergio Cauda, Maria Cicciù, Carlo Gonella, Sergio Cauda, Aurelio Conterno, Angelo Gagliardi
Synopsis: THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS follows a handful of men, seventy to eighty years young, in Piedmont, Italy, in their search for the elusive Alba truffle. They’re guided by a secret culture passed down through generations, as well as by the noses of their cherished and expertly trained dogs. The documentary subtly explores the devastating effects of climate change and deforestation on an age-old tradition through a visually stunning narrative that celebrates life and exalts the human spirit.
Directed and written, with gorgeous cinematography by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw [The Last Race (2018)] The Truffle Hunters is an enthralling and informative documentary about those who seek out rare, prized and expensive white Alba truffles deep in the forests of Piedmont, Italy. Desired by the richest patrons in the world, it remains a pungent but rarified mystery which cannot be cultivated or found, even by the most resourceful of modern excavators.
The film follows four, elderly, silver haired truffle hunters: Carlo Gonella, Sergio Cauda, Aurelio Conterno and Angelo Gagliardi and their beloved, expertly trained dogs – Birba, Biri, Charlie, Fiona, Nina and Yari.
Things begin quietly, with no narration and we see that the men live a simpler, slower way of life, in harmony with their loyal animals and their picture-perfect land, seemingly straight out of a fairy tale. They don’t use smartphones or the Internet, but instead they make their food and drink by hand and prioritise in-person connections and a strong sense of community.
One man constantly argues with his wife, who worries that he will get injured hunting for truffles at night; another has only his beloved dog Birba to talk to and says he would only have married in order that the dog would have a carer after he was gone. Another younger truffle hunter must contend with poison traps left out for dogs by vicious competitors. Another has angrily quit the truffle business, convinced that it’s become corrupted. In between idyllic scenes in the woods, viewers get glimpses of the high-stakes truffle market, from back-alley deals to snobby assessors and busy, buzzing auctions. One man slowly and contemplatively eats a fancy plate of fried eggs and fondue topped with shaved truffles. “Very good,” he says after a few minutes.
This remarkable documentary quickly casts doubt on this apparently idyllic and eccentric life. Scenes of sellers and other businesspeople who are profiting from the rare food items also offer a sharp contrast to the pastoral moments. One exhausted seller claims that he never even has time to cook a meal and eat any truffle himself. Cleverly edited, criss-crossing images about a way of life that is off the grid and that few know about are underscored by a glorious soundtrack from composer Ed Cortes.
But the demand for white truffles increases year after year, even as the supply decreases. As a result of climate change, deforestation, and the lack of young people taking up the mantle, the truffle hunters’ secrets are more coveted than ever. However, as it soon becomes clear, these ageing men with their eccentric humour and rich complexity beneath the surface are like truffles themselves; indeed they may just know something much more valuable than even this prized delicacy: the secret to a rich and meaningful life and why it is worth preserving.
Images courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics