The Truffle Hunters

Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Italy, Greece, USA
Screening Date:
  • 13 Dec 2022
  • Categories:

    Study of eccentric old Italian men who know where to find truffles in the forests of Piedmont. With handsome scenery, loveable codgers and cute dogs, it's a quirky and beguiling film.

    Film Notes

    The Truffle Hunters review – strange and charming ode to rare dogs.

    An involving Luca Guadagnino-produced look at the world of truffle hunting doubles as a sweet study of the relationship between old men and their dogs.

    A strange, funny, mysterious and rather beautiful film about an activity that’s recherché to say the least: truffle hunting, and it is a taste on which my palate still needs educating. (A very distinguished French film producer once took me and my colleague Xan Brooks out to lunch at a restaurant renowned for its truffles and when we failed to show the correct ecstasy, his expression of disappointment was almost priestly.) This film is also a heart-wrenchingly sweet study of the pure love that exists between old men and their dogs. The directors are Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, who made the 2018 award-winner The Last Race about a stock-car racing track threatened with redevelopment, and with that and The Truffle Hunters, these film-makers are developing a sympathy for arts (and artists) who may be dying out. Luca Guadagnino is the producer.

    In the forests of Piedmont in northern Italy there is to be found a certain exquisite form of white truffle prized by connoisseurs and gourmands and restaurateurs the world over – and they are prepared to pay big money. The film shows auctions for these dusty, bulbous fungi with buyers showing the kind of overexcitement more associated with sales of wine or contemporary art.

    These truffles can’t be farmed or grown in a lab. They can only be found by about half a dozen old, gnarled truffle-divining Italian guys and their dogs who have spent decades of their lives perfecting the art. They often hunt at night so that their rivals can’t find out where their top spots are. And notoriously, they are not training any young apprentices or letting anyone in on the secret. So their truffles are getting more and more mind-blowingly expensive because there is a real possibility that the truffles will vanish when the hunters die off. But the rising price and the rising cult of the truffle is keeping these mischievous, fascinating and stubborn old men alive. Scenes of them roaming through the dark forests reminded me of Roald Dahl’s descriptions of poaching in England.

    Dweck and Kershaw show them in a series of formally composed tableaux, often consisting of two men (and it is a very male world: the only woman present is the aged and exasperated wife of one hunter in his late 80s, and she wants him to quit). Truffle hunters chat and squabble among themselves. A truffle broker sets up a sale with another man on a street corner as if he is doing a drug deal. A priest carries out a blessing on a hunter and his dog and in another scene reassures him that truffle-hunting will exist in heaven too. One angry old hunter (also a poet) types out an explanation of why he’s quitting the business and talks about how young people appreciate nothing – certainly not the challenge that men of his generation faced in undressing young women, a matter of getting past endless layers and then thick black stockings: “… when you arrived at the thighs you found butter”. Another truffle hunter talks about how younger truffle enthusiasts don’t want “to play with their dogs or spend time in nature – they just want money”.

    You don’t have to watch this very long to realise that truffles aren’t the point – dogs are. I don’t think I have seen a movie recently with quite such a passionate devotion to dogs. It’s a film to leave you with a smile on your face.

    Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 16th September 2020, Toronto Film Festival.

    ‘The Truffle Hunters’: Sundance Review

    A slow-burn watch, The Truffle Hunters is a film as distinctive and lingering as the scent of the rare tuber that inspires it. Centering on a handful of elderly men and their faithful dogs who search for the prized tartufo bianco in the misty woods of Italy’s Piedmont region, this choral work is both tender and hard-edged, combining a lament for a dying trade and the frugal lives of the rural folk who still pursue it with a candid, even sardonic gaze at the forces that are changing the rules of the truffle-hunting game – chief among them financial greed, and climate change.

    This Sundance-supported documentary, which includes Luca Guadagnino among its executive producers, is screening in the same World Documentary section that last year launched the Oscar-nominated Honeyland – another eco fable that sees an ancient food-gathering tradition, in symbiosis with nature, threatened by the desire for immediate profit. Composed of a series of fixed-camera vignettes, The Truffle Hunters is a more poised and painterly film than that North Macedonian work, but equally astonishing in the way its subjects become natural actors of their own stories: hours of patient preparation and trust-building are embedded in every second of footage. After Sundance, further festival play will be followed, one hopes, by some form of theatrical release, as this is a beautifully crafted documentary that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

    This may be only the second film Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw have made together but their previous work, The Last Race (Sundance 2018), on which Dweck took the directing credit, while Kershaw was DoP and co-producer, treads much of the same ground despite taking place at the last surviving stock car racetrack in Long Island. Both films are elegies for a disappearing world, spiked with a critique of a capitalist system that has no respect for tradition or community.

    In The Truffle Hunters’ opening autumnal long shot, a steep wooded slope only very gradually reveals a man making slow progress through fallen branches and brambles, though his two black-and-white dogs stand out sharply against the russet and green background. It’s a neat intro to a film that simultaneously celebrates a traditional way of life and decentres the human, dissolving man into nature.

    There’s wry humour and tenderness in the portraits of men like Aurelio, an unmarried, childless 84-year-old truffle-hunting maestro who eats out of the same plate as his beloved dog Birba. But we also witness the occasional sharp jab at the money side of what has become a multi-million dollar business. A red velvet cushion on a dias is seen twice before its purpose is revealed – as the plinth for a mega-truffle that will be auctioned off for several thousand euros. A besuited truffle dealer is heard on the phone asking a caller “how many truffles does your president need?”. Less formal trading goes down at night, like drug deals, in dark alleyways or on country roads with the merchandise lit by car headlights.

    But the heart of this melancholic documentary is with the men and dogs who spend days and nights in closely guarded forest locations searching for the precious tartufo bianco – which has never, to date, been successfully cultivated. Men like Sergio, a garrulous truffle-hunting ageing rocker who has something of Joe Cocker about him, or the bird-like Carlo, 88, who is forced to climb out of a window to go nocturnal truffle hunting after his stone-faced wife – one of very few women in the film – tells him he’s too old to be wandering about the woods at night (“I like to hear the owls”, is his simple defence). A canine-cam fitted to the heads of some of the truffle dogs we see in the film provides some breathless ‘action sequences’ while driving home the fact that truffles are all about symbiosis and respect – between man and dog, between tree roots and the spores they host, between fellow hunters, whose rare conversations in thick Piedmontes dialect conceal more than they reveal.

    What carries The Truffle Hunters past some narrative lulls is the way that its carefully composed shots, subtle woodland sound design and quirky use of on and off-screen music depict a real world that is also a magical realist elsewhere. The film leads us into a distant, pre-technological past that still exists in the present and could even be a vision of some strange regressive future, where lonely forest men and their faithful truffle dogs are threatened by unknown dog poisoners and the climate change that, year after year, means fewer truffles are found, and more aggressive tactics are used to get to them.

    Lee Marshall, Screen Daily, 27th January 2020.

    What you thought about The Truffle Hunters

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    12 (44%) 12 (44%) 3 (11%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 27
    Film Score (0-5): 4.33

    Collated Response Comments

    83 members and guests attended the screening of The Truffle Hunters. 27 gave a response which is a 33% response rate and a rating of 4.33.

    We had many comments about the truffle cheddar offering and grateful thanks go to Gary for going to all that effort to cut the cheese and put pieces on Ritz crackers. Something I copied at Christmas gatherings on more than one occasion. Went down a treat.

    All of your comments are collated below.

    “Thought this was beautifully shot mostly (shots from dogs' perspective felt misplaced in the otherwise graceful style), a striking Italian countryside, a quirky Piedmont village echoing the thoughtful casual pace. Along with the folk apparently serene, but with an exception of one wanting to leave the business and another a shrewd salesman. They seem to be living anachronistically in their simple, pure way of life. The film balances between sweet, humble, witty and sad. Yet they're unique; held my breath during the dog's bath with a hairdryer in the tub. Another man's wife sees him as getting too old to go out at night looking for truffles alone. Liked the fed-up bloke who's a swearer, drinker, smoker and moaner but the liveliest of the bunch. There's no music, as we follow a variety of older folk searching woods at night mostly. Wasn't sure if the film may have been exploitive about how the dogs are used; but these dogs are loved dearly by the men: indeed, one of the men has no need for a girlfriend or a wife and long as he has his dog to keep him company in a symbiotic relationship. Sometimes we had a sense of shady dealings of truffles in back streets, occasions where different people are hunting on another person's "territory" as well. But exploitation is evident with businessmen using the hard work and passion of others to enrich themselves. And we do have a brief window into the traditional world of truffle hunting and the threats to its future”.

    “Interesting film which to me raised more questions than it answered. What is the skill in locating truffles and how do they go about finding them? Is there a younger generation involved? Why are the dogs being poisoned? Etc etc. Shame the subtitles didn't sync. But overall, an enjoyable experience and great idea to be able to sample truffled cheddar with the welcome glass of wine. Happy Christmas and thanks again”.

    “I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely piece of filmography. The images, the people..., and of course the dogs!”

    “Good to learn about this " niche" activity and the difficulties of maintaining a traditional skill with increasing demand for truffles! More like this please!”

    “I loved it. Quite charming – but dark at times, poisoned dogs and gangs!!!”

    “Charming study of wonderful old men and their devoted dogs. Clearly a dying art. Beautifully filmed – good that they spoke their own words”.

    “Great fun.” “Tasty”.

    “Enchanting”. “Visually stunning – socially full of melancholy. Smart dogs”.

    “Lovely film. Simple, relaxing. Great scenery. Lovely relationship between man and dog!”

    “Beautifully filmed. Such wonderful characters. Loved the dogs”.

    “Very enjoyable. Lovely music (and dogs!)”.

    “Great feat for a documentary to make real life like something so magically whimsical like a Wes Anderson or Majezaki animation”.

    “Quirky but a little slow”. “Entertaining”.

    “Too long – would have made a good short – and subtitles out of synch”.

    Clever dogs and good camera work. Pity the subtitles were mostly behind the actual speech – a bit confusing”.


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