The best food on earth just got better
By Pat Mullen
The Truffle Hunters
(Italy/Greece/USA, 84 min.)
Dir. Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw
Programme: Special Events (Canadian premiere)
Few delicacies excite the senses like truffles do. A truffle may hold the most wonderfully aromatic and delightfully scrumptious powers in the world. The savoury, earthy taste warms the body like roasted garlic or smoky scotch. Their fragrant character makes any meal with a hint of truffle an olfactory adventure. Weirdly shaped and quirkily textured, truffles evoke many senses when hunting for them in delicatessen aisles.
Fellow truffle pigs will truly relish every second of Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s The Truffle Hunters. This tasty flick eschews the usual food porn one sees in documentaries about all things edible. The Truffle Hunters elevates the fungi at its centre and gives foodies further appreciation for this rarest of delicacies. It takes audiences through the thrill of the hunt and imparts the traditional methods used to cultivate the goods. One sees why the truffle is such a luxurious treat.
Dweck and Kershaw go hunting in the forests of Piedmont, Italy where revered foragers find their goods. The truffle hunters at the heart of the film are stalwarts from another generation. They have only instincts to guide them, as well as dependable dogs with expert noses. (There are no truffle hogs to be found here, except in the metaphorical sense.) The truffle hunter, or tartufolio as they’re called, have a particular sense for the white Alba truffle—the rarest of beasts. Hunters Carlo, Aurelio, Angelo, Egidio, Sergio, Gianfranco, and Paolo form the film’s cast of eclectic hunters. Rare beasts themselves, they keep their analogue methods secret, much to the concerns of younger truffle lovers who worry that the hunters will take the harvest locations to their graves.
Dogs Birba, Bibi, Fiona, Charlie, Titina, Nina, and Yari are their adorably dependable companions, joining them in the hunt and sharing delicacies at the dinner tables. Even the local priests bless the pooches with sacred hopes that their noses will yield rich harvests. When a week’s worth of hunting might yield only a single truffle, the divine dogs could use a prayer.
The relationships between the dogs and the hunters are special. Dweck and Kershaw capture the role of the dogs through jittery Go-Pros mounted atop the four-legged truffle hunters. The film lets us experience the thrill of the hunt from a dog’s point-of-view as one runs energetically through these enchanted forests in search of buried treasure. Every step of The Truffle Hunters is an adventure through a magical world. However, danger lurks in the woods, too, as the hunters learn through sad consequences that some locals leave poison among the trees to thwart the dogs. Every sniff and every lick could be a dog’s last. The hunts are as suspenseful as they are exciting with the inevitable tragedy the film foreshadows.
The film celebrates the aging hands who give us so much joy through the riches they cultivate. The Truffle Hunters is a film for anyone who savours the joy of sharing a good meal. Dweck and Kershaw evoke the ritual of the truffle savants who explore the textures, aromas, and fragrances in the film. Like the experts, the film raises truffles and gives them a good sniff, exploring the facets that and complexities that make them as rich as the best bottles of wine. The Truffle Hunters reminds audiences to slow down and savour the fine things in life. It’s so good to indulge.
The Truffle Hunters screened at TIFF 2020 and opens in January 2021.