Combustible Celluloid
With: Piero Botto, Sergio Cauda, Maria Cicciù, Aurelio Conterno, Enrico Crippa, Gianfranco Curti, Angelo Gagliardi, Egidio Gagliardi, Carlo Gondola, Carlo Gonella, Paolo Stacchini
Written by: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Directed by: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 84
Date: 03/05/2021

The Truffle Hunters (2021)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Shroom with a View

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This excellent, beautifully-crafted documentary is by turns charming and eye-opening as it depicts the unchanging lives of truffle hunters, and the cutthroat tactics of the high-stakes truffle market.

The Truffle Hunters begins quietly, with no narration, showing a handful of veteran truffle hunters, some in their eighties, who head out into the woods of Piedmont, Italy, with their faithful dogs to find the rare and expensive food item. We never even learn their names, save for the 80-something Carlo, whose wife frequently hollers his name, urging him to come home.

Another man has only his beloved dog Birba to talk to. Another, younger truffle hunter must contend with poison traps left out for dogs by vicious competitors. Yet another man has angrily quit the truffle business, convinced that it has become corrupted.

The film especially highlighting the hunters' love and appreciation for the highly-trained dogs. But the movie quickly casts doubt on this idyllic life by revealing the information that poison traps are sometimes laid out for dogs, to hurt the competition.

In-between the peaceful scenes in the woods, we also get a glimpse of the high-stakes truffle market, from back-alley deals to snooty assessors and busy, buzzing auctions. The images of sellers and other businesspeople who are profiting off of the rare food items also offers a sharp contrast. One exhausted seller claims that he never even has time to cook a meal and eat any truffle himself. Another man slowly and contemplatively eats a fancy plate of fried eggs and fondue topped with shaved truffles. "Very good," he says after a few minutes.

These cleverly-edited, criss-crossing images seem randomly interwoven, but there's a deliberate rhythm that creates a definite emotional flow, seeing the genuine moving hand-in-hand with, yet refreshingly separate from, the cynical. Aside from a few moments of iffy content, The Truffle Hunters emerges as a remarkable documentary, and one that has a chance to stand the test of time.

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