Review by Sean Boelman
A food doc that isn’t really a food doc, Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s The Truffle Hunters is a surprisingly hilarious film. Shot in a spectacular and almost narrative-like fashion, this documentary uses the eclectic personalities of its subjects to create an absolutely captivating story.
The movie follows a group of older men who live in the forested areas of northern Italy searching for rare (and expensive) truffles with the aid of their canine companions. But there is a lot more to this story than people foraging for fungi — it’s about a culinary artform and the unexpected economic market that sprung up around it.
The pacing of the film is certainly unorthodox, but in a very good way. It’s a story that, on paper, seems like something people wouldn’t care about. Outside of the upper class or those who are deeply interested or trained in the culinary arts, few would know about this delicacy, much less care about how it is harvested.
And yet Dweck and Kershaw are able to milk some interesting drama out of this story. Some of the most interesting portions of the movie explore the relationship between the different foragers and how they each have their own methods of hunting. Some of them are surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly, given how valuable each truffle is) territorial over their “hunting grounds”.
Other portions of the film that are fascinating explore the impact of the truffles after they hit the market. One of the best scenes in the movie shows some people as they describe the smell of different truffles as if they are sommeliers describing a distinctive bottle of wine. This only goes to show how absurd this truffle culture really is.
Of course, a big draw for this film for mainstream audiences will be the dogs that the harvesters have trained to locate the rare truffles. Although the relationship between the animals and their caretakers is treated as secondary to the main focus on the truffle market, it’s still compelling and very cute.
What really pushes this film over the top, though, is how beautiful it is. Yes, the offbeat sense of humor and the intriguing world it explores are the cake itself, but the icing is the gorgeous cinematography. Even in the most straightforward of moments, such as two people sitting at a table, the framing is impeccable.
The Truffle Hunters does a lot within its short runtime, and it’s extremely interesting as a result. It’s a deliciously funny documentary with a unique method of storytelling and some breathtaking visuals.
The Truffle Hunters screened as a part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival which ran September 10-19.