The Truffle Hunters Review *****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Documentaries don't come much more delightful than Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw's immersive consideration the canine truffle hunters of the title along with their two-legged friends.

And when they talk truffle hunting, they're not speaking about picking through the empty wrappings to find the last alcoholic chocolate in the Christmas assortment. This is the much more coveted Alba white truffle - which, to date, is only found in the wild by those who have the right sort of nose (and training) to sniff them out, namely dogs. Dweck and Kershaw don't waste time explaining all this, instead they take us straight to the bucolic forests of Piedmont in north-west Italy where faithful hounds of all shapes and sizes are helping their ageing masters - none of whom will see 60 again - to locate the prized truffles for market. This roaming about in nature contrasts with footage of truffle auctions in immaculate rooms, where potential buyers sniff at the products.

Out in the forests, there's an earthy feel to proceedings so strong that you can almost smell the soil the dogs are digging into, with Dweck and Kershaw showing the simplicity and strength of the relationships between the men and their four-legged pals. Little Birba, for instance, is as much a confidante as a helpmate to 84-year-old Aurelio, who is constantly regaling her with tales of the efforts he is taking to try to find romance, not for himself, but so that she has someone to care for her once he dies. Fiona and Pepe, meanwhile, dig about for Sergio, 68, while Titina accompanies her 88-year-old master Carlo on his night-time forays - highly frowned upon by his wife Maria - that he just can't seem to bring himself to give up.

Much of this is shot with a painterly eye, so that scenes involving the men have the look of Old Masters, steeped in the colours and culture of the countryside. Dweck and Kershaw's eye for the quirky extends to occasionally handing the cinematographer role to one of the dogs, so that suddenly we're running at pace, nose to the ground or occasionally sniffing the air, the dog's shake of the head and camera eliciting the sort of wholesome chuckles too rarely enjoyed by cinema audiences. Composer Ed Cortes' score mixed with retro Italian pop, meanwhile, accentuates the humour and charming eccentricity of the men's lives.

There's a darker side to all of this too, with some having given up the hunt because of, it's implied, younger rival hunters setting poison down for dogs, while others mourn the decline in the number of truffles, due to deforestation and climate change. The directors also nod towards the huge profits made by some from the truffles, though those whose skills find them get only a fraction of that amount.

For the most part, however, this is a sensuous plunge into a world that's built on simple pleasures - from Carlo's shared treats with Birba,  to a dog catching scent on the wind and the pure enjoyment of a fried egg dusted with truffle shavings - and once you've spent an hour and 24 minutes there, you're likely to be minded to sniff out a few simple pleasures of your own.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2020

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