A steep slope, speckled green and orange; the same forests, now barren, kissed by fresh snow; An abundance of fresh tomatoes spread out on a rustic table. These are just a few of the most picturesque scenes The truffle hunters, a calmly breathtaking documentary about senior collectors searching for this precious white mushroom. The film, which released on March 5, isn’t just a pretty sight – Italian travel porn that makes the Old World wanderlust – although it certainly is. The film is an ode to the slow life and has a humble tradition. His style of observation subtly reveals major sociopolitical problems surrounding a luxury business.
Do you know who picked your truffles? The intoxicating whites perfumed with an unmistakable fragrance? It’s not what you thought of. Continuing the cultural tradition, an eccentric group of lively Septua and Octogenarians discovers Tuber magnatum, the Alba truffle, outside the small Piedmontese village of Moncalvo. Dog companions are absolutely necessary to find truffles. „A bad dog is like a useless conclusion,” says a man who serves his dog dinner on fine china right next to him at the table. Another hunter sings to his dogs as if they were dear children. With scenes devoted to the everyday events of their lives, the film is both a food documentary and a nature documentary – an uninhibited and unprecedented glimpse into a disappearing world.
Shelves of the expository track of many popular food movies and TV shows aimed at keeping viewers informed as much as possible, The truffle hunters unfolds as a series of often wordless vignettes. Without a significant presence such as voice-overs, explanations or direct interviews, much remains unsaid and unexplained about the art and practice of truffle hunting. For example: which breed of dog has the best nose? How do you train them Who will inherit this practice in the future? These questions remain unanswered, which is both the filmmaker’s choice and the fruit of their limitations. Dweck and Kershaw worked on the film for three years to gain trust and access to this little-seen subculture.
Throughout the film there are some tangential glimpses of the business life of a truffle after it was ripped out of the ground. Chippers negotiate with middlemen; Middlemen call customers and cooks; Truffles are collected and auctioned at a trade fair – all gentle memories of the citalists’ supply chain. There is no market for Misshen truffles, so hunters are forced to find perfect specimens – which becomes difficult when the harvest depends on uncontrollable conditions. One hunter, a Saruman Tipper, has completely bid farewell to the game. He makes a statement using his Olivetti typewriter, stating that the integrity of the truffle hunt has been compromised by fierce competition and bad gaming, including trespassing and even dog poisoning. Elsewhere, the high demand for Alba truffles has sparked a profitable and widespread conspiracy of counterfeiting.
Each frame looks like a painting. There are only a few tracking shots, apart from a few short action shots from the dog’s POV. The filmmakers place the stationary camera in front of their subjects, which gives them a status that resembles a noble portrait. This is cultural preservation through cinematic documentation, a recording of unsung heroes – the lowest totem in a luxury food chain. Separated from the technology, collectors may not be interested in seeing the final product, but it is likely that such admiration would not get them phased. Without key questions or persistent suggestions Truffle hunter enables introspection and prompts the viewer to draw his own conclusions. It’s a film that piques your curiosity – if you will, your dainty – and urges you to dig a little deeper.
Elissa Suh is a New York based writer and editor whose work has been published on IndieWire, Paste, and MUBI. She publishes the Moviepudding newsletter.