The Truffle Hunters | Docs/ology

The Truffle Hunters

Director: Mickaeh Dweck and Gregory Kershaw

Buried treasure. The phrase conjures up chests filled with gold and silver, maps where X marks the spot and peg-leg captains who say “Arrrrgh” a lot.

The buried treasure here, of course, is a little different. But the intrigue surrounding them is just as fascinating, and just as intense.

Alba truffles grow in the forests of northern Italy for just a few months a year.  They don’t look like much, but they smell divine, and they sell for thousands of dollars a pound.

The people we meet here who dig them up—the movie’s titular truffle hunters—don’t look like much, either. They’re old and quirky and, to outsiders, might seem a bit crazy. They tromp through the damp woods rain or shine, digging for these valuable hunks of fungus. They take baths with their beloved dogs and invite them to sit on the table as they eat. (“We’re sharing the meat,” one tells his pooch sternly. “Or would you like it all to yourself?”) They jealously guard their territory and lament the cut-throat business that truffle hunting has become.

And they love what they do with a passion that is both utterly perplexing and strangely beautiful.

One shrunken truffle hunter hunts at night, much to the consternation of his worried wife. When we first meet him, he’s in the doctor’s office—patching up an injury he received during one of his nocturnal jaunts, tripping on a branch he couldn’t see.

“You are already 87 years old!” she scolds him. “Think about the fact that you are almost at the end of your life!”

“What if it’s only the beginning?” He asks.

The Truffle Hunters, with its cast of quirky characters and odd visual formality, can feel a bit like a Wes Anderson film. But like movie’s characters, it digs a little deeper. You could even call it a love story.

We see plenty of folks here who would say they love their truffles. Aficionados stand in line just to breathe in the aroma of one literally placed on a pedestal. An expert has a truffle shaved on his morning egg and declares it, with the certainty of a god, “very good.”

But after watching the people who find these experts their truffles, you get the sense that the experts are missing the point. For the hunters themselves, the truffles—as wonderful and as delicious as they might be—are only part of the joy of truffle hunting, and not even the biggest part. They hunt truffles to get out into the forest, to spend time with their beloved dogs, to experience the thrill of the hunt. The truffles? For many, they feel more like the excuse for what they do—not the reason they do it. 

Many of the truffle hunters talk about the growing dangers of what they do—how new, more ruthless hunters slash tires and leave poison traps for dogs.  One refuses to hunt anymore: Too many greedy people, he says. They don’t love nature. They don’t care about the dogs. They’ve drained all the charm and joy from the profession.

And that makes The Truffle Hunters a bit of welcome counter-programming for this age of ours. Tethered to our screens, tied to our schedules, spending money on things we’re told to care about, we’re reminded what real joy can look like for some: Walking through nature with a beloved companion, where each patch of dirt holds the promise of treasure.

Written by Paul Asay