Written and directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, deep in the forests of Piedmont, Italy, a handful of men, seventy or eighty years old, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle-which to date has resisted all of modern science’s efforts at cultivation.
The first thing to say about this film is that if you’re a fan of truffles and dogs, then it is definitely for you. If you’re not, well then you may struggle with it a touch as it has a very specific style and tone. It gives you a peek into the lives of these elderly gentlemen and the threats to their livelihood, passion for truffle hunting and their dogs. It moves at a very slow pace, there’s no one key focus, it continually switches between its different subjects. However there is a clear devotion to telling how greed and modern ways are jeopardising and irrevocably changing the world of truffle hunting.
Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s directorial style is one that’s hard to put your finger on. For a large part it’s very understated and simple, giving all the focus to its subjects but then there are sudden unexpected inclusions that dampen the strength in that former simplicity. One is the use of shots from the perspective of the dogs, which feel entirely out of place in the otherwise graceful style. It also seems to struggle to know when to cut, letting scenes linger on until they become uncomfortable, particularly one of a man eating fried eggs which feels entirely unnecessary. The tone is similarly difficult to decipher, it walks the line between sweet, humble and sad. It will likely make you question whether these men are now living in a time that’s not built for them and their simple, pure way of life.
However, one aspect that’s entirely consistent is the cinematography. It uses stunning visuals, captures the beauty of the Italian countryside, and considering the location of the film, you wouldn’t expect anything less. It compliments the thoughtful movement to the film, matching its casual pace. It then in turn matches its subjects who are mostly serene, content men with an exception for one wanting to leave the business and the other a somewhat shrewd salesman.
The Truffle Hunters is a somewhat strange and very specific choice of subject for a documentary. It isn’t quite clear who exactly may be the target audience for this film but it does hold a certain bittersweet charm. The style is at its best when following a contemplative tone, matching its beautiful imagery. There are a few odd choices along the way and it struggles to decide upon a clear, consistent focus. It’s a film that won’t work for everyone and does require some patience but for documentary fans, it gives you a brief window into an exclusive, traditional world of truffle hunting and the threats to its future.