The Truffle Hunters – Film Review
Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw
Review by Frank L
In the forests of Piedmont in Northern Italy, a diverse collection of elderly men and their dogs maintain a tradition of searching in the rough ground for the white Alba truffle. The Alba has apparently defied man’s attempt to cultivate it commercially. It is sought after by chefs for its unique aroma and taste. In consequence, there is an army of middlemen who exist between the elderly hunters (and their dogs) and the gourmets who eventually devour the much-prized truffles.
In this gentle documentary, Dweck and Kershaw allow the viewer to peek into the world of these elderly men and their dogs. The dogs are as much stars of the show as the men. The relationship between each man and his dogs is a wonder to behold. In particular, one octogenarian Aurelio and his dog Birba (pictured above) have a co-existence that is intensely intimate. Aurelio talks to Birba about the arrangements he is making to ensure that Birba is adored after Aurelio’s death. It is almost possible to hear Birba’s appreciation of Aurelio’s efforts!
There is no sound other than incidental music and occasional talk of the individuals themselves. That helps to emphasize the secretive world in which these men operate. They often hunt at night when their movements are difficult to observe. They do not let anyone know the locations of the possible truffles and certainly not the middlemen… Blandishments do not break their silence. Needless to say, as there is big money involved in this idyll, there has been some foul play. For instance one of the hunter’s dogs has been poisoned. The simplicity of man and dog using their combined wits to unearth a truffle is uplifting in its celebration of so many skills of observation and accumulated knowledge.
Apparently, Dweck and Kershaw took over three years to make the film and garner the trust of these men. They have not disclosed the locations. The secrets remain intact. Because of the lack of a voice-over, it is not always easy to follow precisely what is happening but the spontaneity of these elderly gentlemen and their affectionate dogs transcend any such shortcomings.
Dweck, Kershaw, the elderly gentlemen and their dogs have allowed us to savour a world that is hard to imagine still exists. It is a privilege to watch even if it is not possible to smell and taste one of the truffles.