Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw have crafted a near fairy tale look at the life of some irate Italians as they clamber through the forest seeking a delicacy that by weight is more valuable than gold. The Truffle Hunters is a beautiful, experiential documentary, taking you into a world that feels completely from another time.
Shot over the period of several years with seemingly endless patience, Dweck and Kershaw’s film unfolds with scenes that appear as living paintings. Sharp stabs of light penetrate the dark of an ancient kitchen, while the mottled illumination on a forest floor illuminates the tangled trail the hunters follow. The chiaroscuro elegance gives way to bleak, fluorescent rooms where presidents are promised the finest of specimens, or the wealthy from all over the planet engage in an auction for this edible treasure.
Each character is palpably unique yet share common traits – a strong sense of tradition, secrecy and competitiveness. Beyond their long suffering spouses, their true companions are their dogs, tireless partners whose snouts sniff out the buried fungi and scratch their way downwards to satisfaction. Armed with little more than a walking stick and a mind filled with decades of the hunt, these strange and surly men closely guard their areas of concern as they march with strength that belies their years up steep and treacherous slopes to seek out their finds.
While the financial pressures are great, it’s clear that there’s far more to do here with the exhilaration of the chase rather than mere financial gain. Many have actually stopped the hunt, while others steadfastly refused to teach a new generation their mysterious ways. It all feels like a mix of a religious sect marked with a grail-like quest, buttressed by the mystical ways they believe these tubers emerge, counting on elements such as the phases of the moon or specific lightning strikes to promote the growth.
That thrill and excitement is made all the more palpable by the dogcam contraption that brings us directly along with the frenetic hunt. It’s these moments where the flurry of activity is contrasted with the quiet pace of the homesteads that gives the film much of its artistic power, allowing each element to engage in a kind of conversation with one another. In the end we’re gifted with not only a sense of how they live their lives, but also what drives them, the kind of engaging obsession that’s easy to understand if not as easily accepted.
If there ever was a film that deserves another dimension to be added, it’s this one, and while the filmmakers do an extraordinary job at heightening other senses (including a remarkably nuanced soundtrack filled with forestial delights), we crave the smells of this film like no other. White truffles are impossible to cultivate, making this group of oddballs and dreamers our only glimpse into how the natural world bestows these gifts, and how the world craves these delights.
The Tuffle Hunters is a breezy, beautiful film, a story briskly and elegantly told. It provides a profound yet accessible look at these individuals, providing a wonderful balance between the poetic and the silly. It’s hard not to fall in love with Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw and the characters they bring to the big screen, it’s even harder not to end the film craving a giant tuffle to be shaved over a fine meal.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10
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September 25, 2020