The realm of the Alba or white truffle is found in southern Europe and carries the glare of a prized art object.
According to my internet research, a record was set in December 2007, when a Macau casino owner paid $330,000 for a single white truffle weighing over three pounds. One of the largest truffles discovered in decades, it was found near Pisa.
Even to see a truffle on-screen is a unique experience. The mushrooms resemble what a giant king’s fist might look like—solid nuggets of dusted gold.
From directors Gregory Kershaw and Michael Dweck, “The Truffle Hunters” takes you on the quest to find these rare delectables in the Piedmont of Italy. The film is offbeat, puzzling, and thoughtful. It works on you gradually in small segments that seem like funny cartoons until one is hooked and left with a bit of haunt.
There is Sergio Cauda who is big shouldered and gruff, looking a bit like Gerard Depardieu. He swears in his truck over a storm, hunts for truffles, washes his dog in the tub and then drums a bit, banging away like Phil Rudd from AC/DC.
Then there is a well-dressed Aurelio at 84, considered the best hunter. He is asked to give up the location of his truffle trove. After much arguing and back and forth, spoken in a Piedmont version of Italian, he refuses.
There is Carlo at 88, who goes to a priest. The priest blesses him and his truffle hunting dog, Titina, while his wife forbids him to continue hunting. “You will be hunter par excellence in the afterlife” the priest asserts.
There is a melancholic gentleman who speaks to his dog Birba, saying if he goes, he will find a wild woman to take care of her.
Finally, there is Angelo, truffle hunter and poet who says he is through with the hunt. He writes a letter of resignation, citing greed. With his beret he is like Dali who misplaced his paints and he laments the past bitterly.
These hunters venture in the night to search in secret for the elusive truffle, risking annoying slip up, or catastrophic injury.
Central to the film are the dogs who are indispensable doing most of the grunt-work and happily so.
While at first the film feels like TC Boyle or Roald Dahl, it takes a darker turn as the hunters are often being henpecked by coarse truffle dealers. Risk of falls and injuries lead to sexy slim noses sniffing truffles on red velvet pillows and silk satisfied jowls.
Gourmet is commerce and life is harsh. Even the dogs are under attack as intentional poisoning and envy of hunting becomes an evil thing.
Perhaps Carlo has the last laugh, dismissing doctor’s advice and spousal alarms, by escaping out of the window in the wee hours with his ready shepherd Titina.
“Truffle Hunters” is a satisfying and eccentric portrait detailing the rough and tumble world of truffles. The four men in this film are preserving the ritual of truffles as indigenous fungi that is wholesome and good, from the earth. Let us hope this rite continues.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org