by Rebecca M Alvin
If you think you’re going to learn a lot about how to find truffles, what makes the best truffles, or how to prepare truffles by watching Michael Dweck’s and Gregory Kershaw’s 2020 documentary The Truffle Hunters, you will be disappointed. The film is less about truffles than it is about a vanishing way of life in Italy, in which man and dog are business partners working to find these highly valued, earthy fungi and obeying a code of honor that is rapidly fading. While at one time the secret knowledge these truffle hunters have was respected, as the film shows us, increasingly the allure of money has turned truffle hunting into a cut-throat industry where lands are invaded by those who seek the prized ingredient, buyers and sellers argue about prices, and some even go to the extreme of poisoning the dogs who sniff out truffles for their competitors.
The men in this film are barely even identified, although the names of their dogs are given. Birba, Fiona, Siana, Titina. We not only learn their names, but watch them celebrate birthdays, and in one case, even bathe with her owner. In many respects the film is actually about this intimate relationship. At times the camera even takes the dog’s perspective, showing us a low-to-the-ground, hyperactive hunt for the elusive Alba truffle. As one truffle hunter puts it, “If you don’t trust your dog, you shouldn’t go truffle hunting.”
Filmed with great care and admiration for the landscape and the way of life, The Truffle Hunters gives us an understanding of why these people who have made truffle hunting their way of life see it as much more than a means of earning income. The beauty of the forests, the closeness with the dogs, the adventure of seeking out something rare and apparently delicious (although not once do we see anyone actually eat these truffles!)—clearly there is more to the endeavor than just an ordinary agricultural job.
These rustic scenes of hunting are contrasted with stylish images of the truffle industry, where experts put truffles in wine glasses and sniff them with such enthusiasm it seems the value is held entirely in the aroma, rather than the taste.
The Truffle Hunters is a visual delight that elicits a great appreciation for these delicacies and for the men and dogs who find them, while it also offers a portrait of a somewhat absurd industry that so fetishizes these expensive fungi, you wonder why it’s all worth the expense and risking of dogs’ lives for something only the richest, elite foodies can actually benefit from. In any case, it’s a rich, cinematic experience. A good choice for the final film in the Film Art Series at Waters Edge Cinema.
The Truffle Hunters (2020) is showing as part of the Film Art Series at Waters Edge Cinema, 237 Commercial St., 2nd Fl. in the Whalers Wharf Mall, Wednesday, May 18, 7 p.m. For tickets and information visit provincetownfilm.org/cinema.