The Truffle Hunters is so breathtakingly beautiful that you can literally pause the film anywhere and view, onscreen, a museum-quality piece of art worthy of an Old Master painting.
To simply call The Truffle Hunters a documentary feels disrespectful. Directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw have created a piece of art themselves, paying homage to a handful of elderly Italian men – and their dogs – who have dedicated their lives to finding Alba truffles, the increasingly rare fungi whose knobby shape and dirty hue belie their exorbitant value to gourmands.
Dweck and Kershaw make it clear that these men are in the hunt for the joy of spending their days in the fairy tale-like forests with their four-legged best friend. Their lives are simple. For them, the journey is as important as the destination.
This is not the case, though, for the foodies hungry for their wares – and, therefore, those hungry for the money to be made from them.
As it becomes more and more challenging to actually find these truffles in the Piedmont forests – climate change, deforestation, local economic struggles have all taken their toll – competition heats up and the men’s livelihoods are threatened. So are their dogs, some who are being poisoned. It’s gut-wrenching, and these hunters’ love for their canine companions is palpable.
The men themselves are such quirky characters, they are a delight to follow. One has an ongoing conversation with his dog about where she will go when he dies, one sneaks out to hunt in the middle of the night because his wife wants him to quit. We watch a priest bestow a blessing on a man and his dog in preparation for hunting season and another type out a scathing letter about why the commercialization of the practice has disgusted him so much, he’s giving it up.
Horrified by the growing greed surrounding their prized truffles, the men are reluctant to share their secrets with a new generation, leaving the real possibility that their knowledge will die along with them.
Thankfully, The Truffle Hunters will live on as documentation of a lost art.
The film is a treasure – as rare as the truffles these men have devoted their lives to finding. It’s meant to be savored.