By Alex Billington
There's nothing else like truffles! The aromatic Tuber delicacy is a specialty in Italy, a high-priced item that is not easy to find. The Truffle Hunters is an exquisite, lovable, utterly sublime documentary that takes us deep into Piedmont to meet some of the finest truffle hunters in the entire world. This doc is the BEST!! I absolutely adore this film, one of the best discoveries at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. A perfectly shot and perfectly presented love letter to the great truffle hunters and truffle dogs of Italy. There is nothing to change about it, nothing to really criticize or nitpick. Just bask in the glory of this doc film and make sure to book a table at a restaurant serving truffle because you'll definitely be hungry for some after finishing this.
Co-directed by filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, The Truffle Hunters is a minimalistic documentary made up mostly of static shots of the various truffle hunters and their dogs. Most of them are older men, who have been at this for decades, with their loyal dog(s) always at their side, always anxious to get out on a hunt. We get glimpses of their daily life, their truffle hunting expeditions, and other various bits of truffle-related happenings - including an auction, sales happening in the middle of streets, arguments and discussions among rivals and friends, dogs digging up truffles, food being served and eaten, and locals going about their business. The film is a marvelous love letter to the entire art of truffle hunting: the people, the dogs, the traditions. It's crafted with a deep appreciation for food and animals and humanity and Italian life.
One of the best parts of this film is the cinematography. It's packed with so many perfectly composed shots throughout: the dog standing on the table; the dog getting a bath in the bathtub; a pile of fresh tomatoes being cleaned; a man being served fried egg with truffle being freshly shaved on top; sneaky deals happening in the shadows on tiny streets; using the headlights of a car to take a look at the truffles in a sale happening on the street; a man sneaking out of the window to go on a nighttime hunt; a long zoom of dogs running up a steep hill in the forest in search of truffles. The best of all, however, is the dog POV shot complete with sound of the dog sniffing and running and whining. It's bliss. A revelation; a moment of pure unadulterated joy, watching these truffle hunting dogs doing their thing. I cheered and applauded when this shot finished.
Sometimes simple is better. This documentary doesn't need any graphics or explanations or interviews. The footage they have is all that is necessary to pull you deep into the Piedmont experience, telling the story of how this skill might be lost in time because of the demand for truffles. It is obvious the filmmakers spent a lot of time getting to know the locals, learning about the truffle hunting culture and gaining their trust. This makes for an authentic work of cinema, a film that exudes warmth and love and compassion. You can almost smell the truffles through the screen. You can almost taste the dirt when the dogs are digging. And you will definitely want to eat a big bowl of pasta, or a plate of eggs, with truffle shaved on top as soon as it's over. Then perhaps a trip to Italy to visit this charming region; but while there, don't get in the way of their work.
Alex's Sundance 2020 Rating: 10 out of 10