From: Silver Screen

‘The Truffle Hunters’ explores a unique human story with artful transparency

‘The Truffle Hunters’ explores a unique human story with artful transparency
One of the truffle hunters with his beloved, truffle-sniffing dog.

“The Truffle Hunters” is a film that showcases the exploration of life in the desolate forests of Piedmont, Italy and follows elderly men on the hunt for the elusive and expensive white Alba truffle. 

These men, accompanied by their loyal sniffing dogs, whose sense of smell is attune enough to find the treasures that lay underground. Blending simplicity with visual wonder and intricate detail, directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw prove that the strongest documentaries rely on visual storytelling. 

We follow a number of individuals throughout the film, from the hunters and their dogs to resellers who make thousands of dollars per pound of truffle. The film weaves brief vignettes of its subjects together to establish the changing environment these hunters are now forced to live in. 

While supply has gone down, demand has only risen for the white Alba truffle, both because of climate change and the lack of a new generation of hunters. It’s a dying art, as the elderly men that venture into these forests remain the only ones who know its secrets and tricks for finding truffles. 

The film portrays the inseparable connection between the hunters and their sniffing dogs with heartwarming, personal scenes. We see the hunters washing their dogs lovingly, feeding them the last pieces of bread and even celebrating their birthdays complete with cake. 

However, there are some people who want to take advantage of the Piedmont forest for their own profit by taking these hunters out of business and killing their dogs with poisoned bait. There’s a crucial conversation that this film introduces: what’s the cost of commercialization? 

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The camera seemingly paints with impressionist flair with each frame and scene. With very little camera movement, we’re enabled to fully take in the different elements and textures of the hunters’ lives, whether it be in the thick of nature or in their quiet, rustic homes. We very deliberately see exactly what needs to be seen, and the staging of our subjects almost feels theatrical at times. 

We get to experience Piedmont with wonder and curiosity, and are rewarded with the epitome of natural beauty. From wide shots of picturesque Italian countryside to following dogs through the forest from their point of view, the entire film is a feast to the eyes. 

It would be incomplete, however, without the incredibly detailed sound design that enhances even the leaves that crunch under the hunters’ feet. It’s charming to hear details like the vigorous sniffs of dogs while they hunt for the truffle or the ambient noises of the forest. 

The film is simple in narrative, with no narrator and little exposition needed to tell its story. We learn from genuine conversations and candid scenes with our subjects. Some of the most touching scenes involve a hunter talking to his dog, Birba, about how he will most likely pass away before her, and pledges to find her a good owner before that happens. 

Sequencing these small vignettes in certain ways evokes more emotion than words can express. The juxtaposition of snobby truffle resellers to the down-to-earth hunters tells us so much without saying so: it’s all about money. The editing is a deliberate and powerful testament to the art of documentary storytelling. 

With such a niche subject, Dweck and Kershaw create a time capsule for a slowly diminishing passion, and present it with beautiful transparency. We aren’t told what to think about the industry of truffles, nor the history of truffle hunting. What we’re given is a beautiful piece of tradition that represents the relationship between humans, dogs and the nature around them. 

“The Truffle Hunters” is visual storytelling at its finest, with the ability to draw you in with both the strength of its cinematography and its uniquely human story. Like the rich truffles it focuses on, the film’s own richness lies in the simple lives of these hunters and their dogs, one that’s free from the modern technologies that we could all use a break from.

“The Truffle Hunters” released in select theatres starting on March 19, 2021.

tau@theeagleonline.com


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