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.