There is much to enjoy and delight in with this film, The Truffle Hunters, showing now as part of the Adelaide Film Festival.
This classy documentary about the truffle hunters of rural Italy, by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw and snapped up by Sony after receiving rave reviews at the Sundance Festival, is a sumptuous piece of film making.
It centres around the painstaking, hit-and-miss hunt for truffles in the forests and countryside of Italy in which the hunters work with their much-loved dogs to sniff out and uncover this most potent and fragrant of delicacies.
The characters range from “old men” who hunt for truffles, a business man who buys and sells truffles like his father had done, and a gourmet buyer (who methodically and “sensuously” devours truffle grated atop fried eggs), are all as deliciously rich as truffles themselves.
Three things are particularly striking about this film.
Firstly, the camera angle and composition. Often, the camera is set at table height, having us look slight upwards towards our subjects, perhaps a dogs’ eye view of their masters? This creates an understated intimacy and foments a sense of anticipation in almost all scenes.
Secondly, apart from a close up of a nose and a dog-mounted camera that created dizzying footage, many, many scenes were wide shots, placing our subjects as small actors agaist vast vistas of nature or cluttered, unpretentious interiors of rustic, Italian homes.
Thirdly, the pace of this film is glacial, akin to the long, slow time it takes truffles to develop underground. Coupled with this decadent slowness is the refreshing absence of social media, of television, of almost all technology. Instead, we are lost in the exquisite richness and, to quote Kundera, the unbearable lightness of being.
And yet, amid all this delicate indulgence, this documentary does not back away from the greed side of truffle dealing. We witness a buyer under pay truffle hunters (the market is soft, he says) while charging premium prices to buyers (truffles are rare at the moment). An ex-truffle hunter rants poetically about this base aspect of the endeavour. And, perhaps equally as base, the local priest tells our 88 year old protagonist that he is sure to be able to keep truffle hunting in heaven (another case of telling the customer or audience what they want to hear).
This is a tender, respectful time spent in another world. It is a film with a huge heart and a huge appetite (or at least it inspires one – I have never longed for a simple dish of spaghetti with truffle this much, ever before) and is thoroughly recommended to anybody who not only loves dogs, slow country life, or gourmet food, but who also appreciates humanity pared down to its most elemental self.