Eccentricity pervades this delightful documentary about the precious fungus and those who trade in it
By Danny Leigh
Cinema — the art of sight and sound — never did quite crack smell. That lack of the olfactory feels like it might be a snag for The Truffle Hunters, a bold and delightful documentary about the precious fungus and those who trade in it. In fact, it feels apt, a teasing absence at the heart of a film that revels in the elusive nature of its subject.
The backdrop is Piedmont, north-west Italy, the dense local forests silent until a huff, a snort and the crack of twig under paw. So enters the first star, a spotted mutt called Fiona, scrabbling at the ground. This is how murder cases begin too, but buried here is the prized white Alba truffle. Shortly, we also meet the two-legged hunters. A pair are into their 80s; a third, slightly younger, writes bad-tempered poetry; the fourth unwinds playing jazz-rock drums in the pastures.
Not much more context is provided. You don’t miss it. Eccentricity pervades. None seems affected. Working with producer Luca Guadagnino (director of Call Me By Your Name among others), the co-directors are Gregory Kershaw and Michael Dweck, the latter an acclaimed photographer. Out of the woods, the camera holds still, wryly observing its central quartet with priests and spouses, doctors and barbers. The playfulness extends to the business deals that follow each haul. Negotiations between middlemen take place down dark night roads, as if staged by Scorsese.
The mood is so lovely — if melancholy — you simply sink into it. Still, Kershaw and Dweck have a surreally thrilling surprise in store, a GoPro camera fitted to a dog, letting us taste first-hand the canine rush through the Piedmont woodland. We get our reward: this beguiling movie.
In UK cinemas from July 9