Pliny the Elder, the author of “Naturalis Historia”, an encyclopedia of Roman knowledge, wrote that truffles were “natural wonders”. Eventually, other people discovered it and a global trade was born, devoted to a commodity that resists cultivation and only grows in a particular corner of the world. (We’re talking about white Piedmontese truffles here, not black truffles from France that are dug up by pigs. That would be a whole other movie.)
“The Truffle Hunters” observes the local dimensions of this business. Without spoiling the delicate vibe with narration or direct on-camera interviews, Dweck and Kershaw put us in the company of a group of idiosyncratic adherents to an ancient way of life. Truffle hunting isn’t all they do – you play the drums; another, who is grumpy in retirement, throws angry poems at his Olivetti – but it defines their worldview. And like many people rooted in traditional and rural practices, they tend towards pessimism and sometimes justified paranoia. There are invisible people who poison dogs and encroach on the traditional grass of hunters. Prices are volatile. We cannot trust intermediaries. Things are not like they used to be.
This perspective, it must be assumed, is not shared by the dogs. They – Birba, Fiona, Titina, Ettore and others – are the true stars of this enchanting and elusive film. Aurelio, a human hunter over 80, explains that because he has Birba, a slender blond dog, he has never needed a woman. However, he hopes to find a woman to whom he can bequeath his home and the care of his faithful canine companion. Franco, who is married, sneaks with his dog Titina on nightly truffle expeditions even after his wife bans him.
Perhaps the truffle hunt is a pretext for the man and his best friend to spend some time together, far from the noise of civilization. Again, however, dogs may see it differently. Some of the most amazing and dizzying sequences from “The Truffle Hunters” show us exactly what dogs see, using a camera mounted just above mouth level. The brush rushes in, and all of a sudden we’re standing over a patch of dirt and frantically digging our paws. A human hand grabs the thing we were chasing as soon as we find it, and off we go.
It’s an intriguing movie, as far as it goes. If I were a dog, I could object – in a friendly way, of course. But since I’m no dog, it will be at the top of my list of essential truffle movies, at least until Birba decides to make one herself. This film will have all the answers.
The truffle hunters
Classified PG-13 for canine danger. Duration: 1 hour 24 minutes. In theaters. Please review the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies in theaters.