Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2020 11:38 am 
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Hunting that most special thing: a delicacy

Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw fell upon documentary gold when they followed the truffle hunters of Northern Italy, a group of cranky oldsters, speaking more thick Piedmontese dialect than Italian, who with their highly trained dogs seek out one of the great delicacies of western cuisine: the white truffles, which can neither be planted nor replaced, and must be found in the forest in damp winter soil. White truffles are the costly crème de la crème of flavorings, which can lift a soufflé, pasta, risotto, egg or soup into the realm of the sublime. An activity alike endangered by climate change and rapacious capitalism, it seems.

I could tell you about Carlo, or "Charlie", and his dog, Titina and stony wife who nags him to stop hunting truffles, especially at night; or unmarried Aurelio whose beloved dog, Birba eats at the table with him, and is talked to all the time; or the bearded, longhaired Sergio who gives up truffle hunting because of the greed, and used to be a circus acrobat. But you must see them all yourself. The essence of this film is perhaps not so much its commendable effort to make us smell the special aroma of the white truffle and share the gourmandize of a big man with a small plate of egg and fondue covered with fresh grated large flake truffle, with wine - not that but the composed landscapes with their subtle, distinct colors and rich foliage, the forest spaces in which the truffles are hunted, and the music, the splendid Verdi arias played as background for the truffle degustation and the truffle hunting. Thus these two American filmmakers have made a film more Italian than anything filmed by an Italian this year.

As noted in his Variety review by Tomris Laffly, this is not an off-the-cuff tracing of found material but a more self-conscious and studied film that's a collection of short staccato segments, leading to a certain artificiality, including the subjects' tendency to play for the camera, though they are followed passively. Because both are unique docs about a threatened form of food cultivation, Laffly as well as the staff reviewers of Hollywood Reporter and Screen Daily think of Truffle Hunters as perhaps this year's Honeyland (ND/NF 2029), the latter about a lone woman struggling to raise honey near an abandoned Macedonian village. But these are two totally different ways of making a documentary film.

The Truffle Hunters,83 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, also showing in the falls at Toronto, Donostia-San Sebastián, Zurich and New York, screened as part of the latter for this review and coming at the Hamptons, Mill Valley and SCAD Savannah later in October. To be released on Christmas Day in US cinemas. Jan. 8 in Canada. [/I]A Sony Pictures Classics release. Metascore 79%.

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