By Deborah Ross
Lame and formulaic: Black Widow reviewed. Watch instead The Truffle Hunters, a quiet, delicate film that has a lot to say about life, and which stars several good dogs
Black Widow is the latest Marvel film and although I’d sworn off these films a while ago, due to sheer boredom, I was tempted back by the fact that this one stars a lady (Scarlett Johansson) and another lady (Florence Pugh) and even a third lady (Rachel Weisz) and is directed by a lady (Cate Shortland). Could be wonderful, I thought, except it isn’t. More women is its only decent idea. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. Otherwise, it’s all formulaic bish-bosh, smash-crash action scenes broken up by lame jokes and lame philosophising along the lines of: ‘Your pain only makes you stronger.’ Not if you’re dying in hospital and they’ve run out of morphine, I was minded to shout at the screen. This is, in short, a dumb film with an even dumber film trying to climb out.
Now we have dealt with that, on to The Truffle Hunters. The Truffle Hunters is not like Black Widow. It did not cost umpteen million dollars and there is no CGI and no violently thumping soundtrack and no Ray Winstone as an evil villain with an accent that is sometimes cockney and sometimes Russian and sometimes a combination of both. (Did his character grow up in the Mile End area of Moscow, perhaps?) Instead, this is a documentary filmed over three years about old men who still truffle hunt with their dogs as per tradition amid the mountains of Piedmont, Italy. Nothing much happens over the 90 minutes — no space stations are shot out of the sky, for example, and no one peels their own face off — but also everything happens, because life happens, and age happens, and the true love that exists between man and dog happens. I did not care about anyone in Black Widow whereas I found I cared a great deal about Birba, who is a good dog, and the best dog, but one that might outlive her owner, which would be awful. I’m tearful just thinking about that.
This is directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw and, visually, it is magnificent, with every scene framed like a gorgeous painting. Mostly, we’re in the forests, famed for the rare white Alba truffles which can’t be cultivated and are prized by connoisseurs all over the world, somewhat mystifyingly. (I recently bought some truffle-flavoured crisps from a posh deli by mistake and just the smell made me retch. But each to their own.) The main characters, who are all in their eighties, are not named-on-screen, yet you’ll come to recognise who’s who and who has which quirks. Sergio plays rock drums and dotes on his dog, Fiona, lovingly blowdrying her after her bath. Aurelio shares the dinner table with his dog, Birba, and bakes her a birthday cake and frets about what’ll happen to her once he’s gone — he’s 88 — but for now it’s a happy life: ‘We hunt truffle and then I make fondue.’ Angelo, a former womanising circus acrobat — ‘I enchanted them… I walked on stilts, that’s fascinating’ — rails against ‘greed’ and the modern world. Carlos persists on hunting at night with his dog Titina — a Labrador cross, I think — much to his wife’s displeasure. You’re too old, she keeps telling him. ‘I want to hear the owl,’ he protests.
Slowly, you build up a picture of this community where the priests bless dogs, the kindly local doctor attends to mishaps, truffle-brokers strike deals on street corners and no one gets blown up, although Carlos does get thwacked in the face by a branch. This quietly and delicately says what it has to say about a way of life that may not be around much longer, without ever becoming twee. But if you are looking for a film in which whole cities are laid to waste, and fight scenes go on for what seems like for ever, you’ll want the other one for that.