‘The Truffle Hunters’ review: A rich and poignant portrait of the quest for culinary gold

‘The Truffle Hunters’ review: A rich and poignant portrait of the quest for culinary gold

A bunch of old Italian men, their dogs and the coveted Alba truffle – what could go wrong? It rarely does in The Truffle Hunters, a documentary about the quest for culinary gold in the Piedmont region in northern Italy. Here, traditional foragers set out regularly with their faithful canines to unearth the fragrant fungi that fetch thousands of euros at auctions and produce markets.

The territory is evenly divided between the locals, many of whom have plying their trade for decades. The global craze for truffles, particularly the rare and prized Alba truffle, means that demand often outstrips supply. But deforestation, climate change and interlopers threaten to upset the pretty picture.

Even as some of the men stubbornly refuse to pass on the tricks of their trade to the next generation, there are forces beyond their control lurking at their borders and at the edges of the frames of this poignant and often humorous portrait. While each of the hunters emerges with a distinctive personality, there is equally a sense of camaraderie as well as the unmistakable feeling of being members of a dying breed.

The Truffle Hunters (2020). Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

The 85-minute documentary, which is available on BookMyShow Stream, has been directed and shot by Michael Dweck and Gregory Crenshaw. The narrative pace is as unhurried as the men who amble through the undergrowth, hoping for the earth to yield its bounty.

The clean frames that sometimes resemble photographs or still paintings have been shot with a static camera, which allows us to relish the rhythms of rural life and better understand the film’s colourful characters and their concerns. The only break in the visual style is in the moments when cameras are mounted on the dogs to give us a sense of how they go about their work.

The quiet and elegiac music, by Ed Cortes, perfectly complements the soothing rural landscape that appears to be stuck in a time warp. It’s not always picture-perfect. At least one truffle hunter has retired in disgust over the “greed” of the new breed. Competition is fierce, and the dogs are under threat from poisoning by unscrupulous rivals.

Another octogenarian refuses to listen to his wife’s imploring and insists on heading out into the forest. This hunter is equally wedded to the thrill of the chase and the comforting feel of the soil under his feet .

A third character is pragmatic about mortality. He worries about the fate of his beloved dog Birba. Although the feisty and hard-working canines are never anthropomorphised, they too command our attention. If my dog dies, I would die too, a hunter says. The humans of Piedmont are unforgettable, as are their four-legged co-workers and companions.

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The Truffle Hunters (2020).

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