The Truffle Hunters

A bunch of old men and their dogs traipse around the forests of northern Italy finding and digging up truffles. That’s the quick synopsis of The Truffle Hunters. But, of course, there’s a bit more to the story.

Along with the elderly gents who harvest the coveted white truffles, the film spotlights their dogs and the love the dogs receive from their humans. Dogs are shown sharing meals and baths with their owners and even being blessed by a local priest.

Truffle dealers buy from these hunters with whom they haggle over compensation. And later the dealers engage in more negotiation with the people they sell to.

The aroma of the truffles is a key element of the story. Truffles on display are sniffed by an assortment of folks. “The scent is all that matters,” says one man of the truffles. A dealer, on a call to a potential buyer, talks up their pungent fragrance and bemoans the fact that “I can’t send you the aroma by phone.” 

This new documentary consists mainly of static shots—no camera movement at all—with a couple of exceptions. The brilliant opening shot of the film is a slow zoom in that lasts a full ninety seconds, gradually revealing a truffle hunter and his dogs scrambling up a woodsy hill. 

The other exception is a pair of sequences shot from a camera mounted atop a truffle-sniffing dog. That dog’s eye point of view recalls similar segments from the early days of David Letterman’s show.

My favorite truffle hunter is Carlo who reminds me of my wife’s 90-year-old uncle on his farm in Minnesota. Carlo’s wife tells him that he should give up his pursuit of the underground fungi—especially heading out at night—but he persists.

The film’s “money shot” In my opinion is the scene featuring a dealer dining alone, enjoying a meal of fried eggs topped with truffle shavings. We should all savor tasty delights as slowly and contemplatively!

The Truffle Hunters is a nice change of pace from the politics, proselytizing and crises often encountered in documentaries. The men and the dogs are charming and the pace of the film is moderate.

The Truffle Hunters is in Italian with subtitles. Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw share directing and cinematography credits. 

French Exit

How do you make an art film? You might start with some eccentric characters and have them doing odd things in exotic places. Say, for instance, Paris. But a gray and rainy Paris, not the colorful one.

Add a soundtrack dominated by pensive piano music with the occasional woodwinds. Throw in some an assortment of side characters, some of whom are a bit off-center. And maybe have something gimmicky like a séance and a black cat that may be… special.

To get the money to make such a film, line up a well-known star like Michelle Pfieffer. And cast an up-and-comer like Lucas Hedges. They co-star in the new movie French Exit.

Here’s the good news: Michelle Pfieffer, now in her early 60’s, looks great! She is rocking red hair in this film. Her wardrobe is spectacular, even her housecoat. 

Here’s the bad news: French Exit is a bore. 

When New York socialite widow Frances Price (Pfieffer) is told that her money is running out, she liquidates what’s left of her valuables and takes her adult son Malcolm (Hedges) with her to Paris. Frances carries huge stacks of currency which she hands out freely. 

Early in the film Frances says, “my plan was to die before all the money ran out.” Later in Paris, she writes, “when the money runs out I’ll kill myself.” Throughout the film the stack of bills on the closet shelf keeps getting smaller.

Frances is not an especially likable person. Nor is Malcolm. The relationship between mother and son, testy at times, should have been better developed. 

Sadly, it’s hard to root for a happy ending. Or for an unhappy ending. What I was rooting for when I watched French Exit was simply… an ending. (But Michelle Pfieffer does look good, even as she makes her… French Exit.)

(For what it’s worth, Wiktionary says the term “French exit” means “A hasty exit made without saying farewells to anybody.”)

French Exit is rated R. (Language. No nudity. A smidge of violence.)