"The Truffle Hunters," as the title suggests, features men - mostly over the age of 80 - who have made a living throughout the countryside of Italy hunting truffles...delicious and incredibly rare fungi that grow below the surface of the Earth and that have incredible value to high-end food connoisseurs.
What the title doesn't tell you, is that it is a movie for dog-lovers, and beneath its surface - just like truffles themselves - there is rich complexity. Also like truffles, this small documentary film is worth the search for what you'll gain in the act of the discovery.
A rare, prized truffle could land you up to $10,000 per pound. They produce a pleasant aroma and are added to dishes to make them more succulent. "If you're not too picky," says one truffle hunter, "you can pretty much eat truffles with anything."
The film drops you into the wooded, mountainous regions of Italy, where the camera barely moves...it doesn't have to when its subjects are so interesting. We meet a handful of local "trifolao" (expert truffle hunters), who rarely if ever see any of the massive profits from their work. No, these men are doing this for the love of it. It's a subculture all its own, but you can't even call it a "tradition" because many of these old cranky men refuse to share with others their "secret spots" of land where the tend to get the biggest and best truffles.
This is, in fact, one of the themes that "The Truffle Hunters" hits on: The idea that this skill might die out as younger generations don't have the time nor the understanding to take it seriously. The film is juxtaposed with a few men on the other end of the truffle-spectrum, men whose jobs are to pick the very best truffles from the bunch and present them for sale to the wealthy. In one particular scene, we see two well-to-do women doing at a "truffle sniffing" event (think "wine tasting" but instead of wine, there's fungi in the glass), and the man presenting these truffles - in a later scene - ridicules a worker for presenting him with truffles that were not properly cleaned before reaching his nostrils.
The unsung heroes of the truffle trade though, are by far, the dogs. Their noses lead their masters to the buried treasures, and these men love their dogs and treat them as equals...scratch that...they put them on pedestals. Several of the scenes show the trifolao waxing nostalgic about their favorite hunting companions, and one specific old-timer feeds his dog right out of his own dinner bowl, praising him and talking to him all the while. The film even features a miraculous new invention: the "truffle-hunting dog cam," where we get a first-hand (paw?) look at the occupation threw the eyes of the canines leading the charge.
There are no talking heads, no history lessons. "The Truffle Hunters" just shows us, and this minimalist approach to filmmaking perfectly corresponds to the simplicity of its subjects. As the film nears the end, one of the wealthy salesmen, eating dinner with his daughter, tells her about how hard it is that he can't eat truffles all by himself when his late-shift ends, that one doesn't eat truffles in the middle of the night. This man reveres truffles on a different level, never appreciating or understanding the men - and dogs - that allow him to live the good life. He may be satisfied, but he can never be full, in the same way as the trifolao.
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes.
Directed by Michael Dweck ("The Last Race") & Gregory Kershaw.
"The Truffle Hunters" is available on Friday, March 12th, 2021.
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