Follow the dogged chase of “The Truffle Hunters”


BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

(1) 84-year-old truffle hunter Aurelio Conterno finds a prized truffle in the Piedmont forests of Italy. (2) Sergio Cauda gives his dog Fiona a bath after a day of digging.



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“THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS”

Blu-ray; 2020; PG-13 for some strong profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: Only extra is the brief featurette, “The Story of ‘The Truffle Hunters.’”










WITH cinematography evoking paintings by the Great Masters, producers/filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw provide glimpses into what looks to be a dying generation of northern Italian truffle gatherers, and the canny canines that lead them to culinary gold.

The outrageous value of the white “Alba” truffles, hunted and dug up in the Piedmont region of Italy – they can sell from $6,000 to $10,000 a pound – belies their, shall we say, homely appearance. But for anyone who has thrilled to the earthy aroma and explosive flavor of just a few slivers shaved from these ugly knots of fungi, the prices aren’t all that shocking. Nor is it surprising that these old fellows guard their hunting secrets with their (and their dogs’) lives. One of the most distressing things in the film, in fact, is a truffler who has discovered one of his dogs has been poisoned, probably by a rival hunter.

There’s a lot to like about “The Truffle Hunters”: Getting acquainted with a few of these affable gentlemen and seeing the emotional bond they seem to have with their dogs. And then there are the many scenes of the fabulous beauty of the northern Italian forests and fields, and the Caravaggesque interior shots of the truffle hunters in their homes.


(1) Sergio Cauda packs up his dogs after a long day of digging in the cold and wet. (2) Cauda and other hunters are concern about the number of dogs getting poisoned during the hunts. (3) Truffle dealer Gianfranco Curti smells the latest batch, while working a deal with international merchants and restaurants. (4) A truffle dealer tries to convince Aurelio Conterno to teach future hunters the trade before he dies.






It’s fun when we get a pooch’s perspective as he races through the woods and stops to dig, thanks to some kind of dog cam attached to his collar. It’s also interesting to observe some of the people who make big money selling the truffles, including a scene at what looks like a truffle expo, during which a young woman fussily tends to a plush cushion on which, one assumes, a prize truffle will be placed. In one fascinatingly creepy sequence, a stone-faced, solitary guy, with the looks of a stereotypical Mafia don, is sitting in a restaurant and slowly eating shaved truffle on eggs, as he’s serenaded with a Caruso aria.

On the other hand, there are scenes that seem set up and staged, and are quite repetitive, such as an octogenarian truffle hunter’s wife nagging him again and again to retire or at least to stop going out at night. It creates a slightly awkward, patronizing quality to the treatment of the seniors, as though the American filmmakers wanted to show how cute or quaint these eccentric Italians are.

VIDEO/AUDIO

This is a Sony Picture Classics Blu-ray and it has a beautiful state-of-the-art appearance, with excellent detail in close-ups, deeply saturated color, and fine contrast. The soundtrack is also top of the line, with all the Italian dialogue (English subtitles are provided, of course) clear and effects well-balanced. Original music is by Ed Côrtes.


(1) Conterno cleans one of the truffles with his female dog Birba watching. (2) Carlo Gonella, and his dog are blessed by the priest. (3) Right, Gianfranco Curti and another dealer define the business as cutthroat. (4) Curti displays a group of truffles.






EXTRAS

The featurette is made up of voice-overs by Dweck and Kershaw, and it’s impossible to know which of them is speaking at any given time. One of them calls his first encounter with the Piedmont region as being “like a fairytale … stepping back in time.” He defends the “one-shot scenes” by saying he “wanted the audience to be immersed the way we were immersed.” He says they were “always looking for cinematic opportunities – something very painterly.”

The film, says either Dweck or Kershaw, is about the fact that “the body may be getting old, but [the hunters] refuse to get old; they have this thing that carries them, a kind of passion.” Dweck and Kershaw say they wanted to share what they observed: That “these guys have figured out how to live … they’re content with life.”

The filmmakers conclude by saying some of the things they learned from the truffle hunters were “what makes us truly human,” and that “not everything’s been discovered. There are still secrets out there.”

— Peggy Earle


(1) Conterno sings a folk song. (2) One of Sergio Cauda’s dogs rests near the fire. (3&4) Conterno calls for his dog Birba, so they can head home.






(1) Eggs with a truffle topping. (2) Carlos wife Maria Cicciù, fears for his safety when he’s hunting at night. (3) Conterno tells Birba he didnt marry because he had his dogs. (4) The sound of a church bell rings through the small Italian village.






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