‘Truffle Hunters’ is a cute look at a dying profession
By Jake Coyle | Associated press
You have to love a movie that credits its dogs before its executive producers.
“The Truffle Hunters,” Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s delightfully charming documentary about old Italian men who scavenge truffles and the dogs they are related to, lists the dogs with proper respect in the end credits. Birba. Biri. Charlie. Fiona. Nina. Titina. Yari. Here are some of the stars of “Truffle Hunters,” a deeply charming film that revel in the noble scavengers of a dog-eating dog world.
“The Truffle Hunters,” which is shortlisted for Best Documentary at the Oscars and which Sony Pictures Classics hits theaters on Friday, takes place in the forests of northern Italy in Piedmont. Dweck and Kershaw, both filmmakers, film the truffle hunters – aging, gentle men practicing an ancient and secretive tradition – in pointillist and painterly paintings as they walk through the autumn forests, feeding with their dogs. . They infiltrate the landscape.
The film, marked by composer Ed Cortes with mixed retro Italian pop, evokes an enchantment from another world. Between backwoods trips where their dogs smell their way to expensive specialties, the hunters humbly live in old country houses. Our main characters are never explicitly introduced, but we are intimately drawn into their world, as if we had just passed through a magical portal. Aurelio, 84, has dinner with his partner Birba, sitting on the table. Carlo, 88, seems to never stop smiling, especially when he manages to pass his wife (who severely believes him too old to hunt truffles at night) and slip into the woods with his dog Titina. The young Sergio, with long hair, a kind but passionate soul, bathes with his puppies – Pepe and Fiona – in a bathtub with pink tiles. It is surely a sweet realm just as bewitching as Narnia.
But the hunters’ land effort is not as simple as it seems. Their way of life is dying. The rare white Alba truffle is increasingly difficult to find due to the effects on the soil linked to climate change. Hunters are often in a hurry for their secrets. “If something happened tomorrow, your wisdom would be lost,” a man urges Aurelio. Truffles are so sought after that their dogs are in constant danger of being poisoned by competitors. Sergio, terrified of losing his, knocks on his drums for catharsis. Another hunter, determined to put something down, furiously hammers his typewriter. “Dogs are innocent,” he wrote.
The feeling that the hunters – who are really there for the dogs more than the money or whatever – are, like their four-legged friends, innocent people in a corrupt world only develops when the filmmakers follow the truffle food chain. Price merchant by lighthouse, hunters always seem lowballed by a well-dressed buyer. Higher still are the starred restaurants and auction houses that feast on the finds of hunters. This commercial world, miles from the muddy forests of Piedmont, is seen in “The Truffle Hunters” as an antiseptic and colorless modern life that has lost its taste for the simple and the eternal.
Wonder and fantasy are back in the forest. “The Truffle Hunters” – arguably one of the greatest dog movies – even plays out from a dog’s point of view every now and then. We see – via the dog camera – as one of the hunters’ dogs as he gets out of the car and runs down a path, panting.
Much like last year’s beekeeping beauty “Honeyland,” “The Truffle Hunters” is a richly allegorical documentary about a dying farming hobby. Truffles, weighed and sniffed at the market, are delicacies. But the most beautiful things rhapsodized here aren’t expensive rarities. What is worth savoring is the natural splendor, the charms of tradition and, above all, a good dog. These things are not delicacies, but they are fragile all the same.
“The truffle hunters”
4 out of 4 stars
Rating: PG-13 (for some languages)
Execution time: 84 minutes