By Mina Takla
Plot: In Italy, where truffle hunting is a culinary obsession, a number of elderly hunters continue to practice what they believe is a true passion rather than a source of income.
One of the most delightful docs at TIFF this year, THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS is a breath of fresh air especially in a year marked by a pandemic and a long series of unfortunate political, social and natural disasters. Here comes a film that is sure to uplift and inspire mainstream and arthouse audiences with its set of charming subjects and focus on a rarely addressed culinary obsession: truffle hunting.
This edible fungi may not be a big deal in several countries in which it may be widely available, but in Italy, truffles are extremely valuable and rare. A kilo can be priced up to 4,500 Euros – and hunting them is no easy task. It takes extremely skilled dogs and shrewd hunters to locate them deep in forests – and elite restaurants serving them pay handsomely to offer them to their customers with fine taste.
The film follows four main elderly trifle hunters as we take a closer look at their personal and professional lives – a stubborn hunter who loves to look for truffle at night, a retired hunter who resents the fierce competitiveness and repulsive greed that has plagued the industry nowadays, a resilient hunter who forms quite a charming relationship with his dog who has helped him hunt truffle for years and a determined hunter who has three expertly trained dogs and goes on daily expeditions.
What makes THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS truly unique as a film is that it takes a multi-layered approach that works on all levels. On one level, this is an eye-opening doc on an industry known to be very competitive and in high demand in Italy, to the extent that competing hunters place poisons to kill their competitors’ dogs. Viewers unaware of how valuable truffle is will get to discover how and why this is not your ordinary mushroom.
On a second, deeper level, this is a film about the connections these hunters make with their canine partners. These dogs who help them locate truffles are not pets – they’re the companions who never left their side, friends who have always been there for them, supporting them unconditionally. More importantly, this is a film about passion – and perhaps obsession – and what it’s like to see one’s passion, from which they derive pure joy – turn into a commodity – an industry that’s not interested except in sales, profits and sustaining a demanding customer base.
Filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw succeed in creating these three layers that make THE TRUFFLE HUNTER an enriching and rewarding experience. The film’s best scenes are those in the hunters’ homes, as we see them at their most intimate and personal, communicating with their beloved dog partners and grappling with a world that is changing so fast around them.
Verdict: Delightful, illuminating and moving, THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS manages to be artistic and accessible, insightful yet deeply moving. A rewarding experience for mainstream and arthouse audiences, it honors its elderly subjects and salutes those whose passion has remained as glowing as their youthful, determined spirits.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release The Truffle Hunters in the US on December 25, 2020.