Entertainment

'The Truffle Hunters' Is a Fascinating Look Into the World's Most Secretive Profession

They're good truffle-hunting dogs!

Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Pictures Classics

Even when times are normal and we don’t spend days and days cooped up in our own homes, it’s easy for us to wish we lived amid, say, the lush forests of Italy, populated by old-growth trees, picturesque little houses, and kind, pastoral villagers. The Truffle Hunters, the immersive new documentary available in select theaters from directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, functions both as a breathtaking, painterly look into such a place, and a stunning portrait of a dying art.

The stars of The Truffle Hunters can be separated into three categories: the humans, the dogs, and the truffles themselves. The truffles, fruiting bodies of a subterranean type of fungus, are tough to find under the best of circumstances, and the specific kind of truffle featured in the movie is the Alba white truffle, increasingly rare and always in high demand. At first glance, you wouldn’t think a movie like this would be as ambitious an undertaking as a superhero blockbuster or a Borat movie, but in order to film their documentary, Dweck and Kershaw had to work to earn the trust of the men who dig up these small, sort of ugly, staggeringly expensive fungi.

The world of truffle hunting is insular and by nature competitive and full of suspicion, foragers constantly battling over territory in confrontations that can sometimes turn violent. Less-honest hunters will forage in secret on land that’s not theirs, stealing the income from the more established old guard, and respected buyers will deal under the table, taking any opportunity they can find to turn a larger profit. The little mushrooms sell for hundreds, even thousands of dollars, and yet those who make a living finding them live in tiny towns, in simple houses, caring for their few friends in the business, their families, and their dogs.

Oh, the dogs! There is no “breed” of truffle dog, only dogs that fit certain requirements: smart enough to be trained, a desire to work, and a powerful and selective sense of smell. However they did it, truffles evolved to smell tasty, even from a foot underneath the earth, signalling to the animals¬†savvy enough to find them that they are delicious to eat, spreading their spores to other spots on the ground every time they’re dug up. The documentary follows a few different dogs, owned by a few different elderly truffle hunting experts, showcasing, in a storybook manner, the complex and loving relationship between the two.

Most of The Truffle Hunters is spent tramping through the woods, climbing over mossy deadfalls and through briar patches as the dogs, sometimes lanky, sometimes small, always delightfully fluffy, sprint on ahead, following webs of scent trails our meagre human noses couldn’t hope to pick up. At times, we meet back up with them in their homes, where one man shares conversations at the breakfast table with his beloved Birba, while another sneaks out of the house to forage at night despite his wife’s protestations, cradling little spotted Titina. The dogs are by turns pets, family members, and coworkers. (Call Me By Your Name¬†and Suspiria¬†director Luca Guadagnino, owner of a truffle dog, is an executive producer.)

Apart from all of this, the film is simply beautiful to look at, with lengthy, leisurely takes of a single portion or forest or spot on a hill, watching and waiting for a man and his truffle dog to walk past.¬†The directors used the landscapes and lighting of Italian master painters as inspiration, waiting hours for just the right angle of sunlight just to get one simple shot. Other portions of the movie are enhanced with thrilling, dizzying “dog-vision” scenes, for which they attached small cameras to the dogs before they were set loose, filming light-speed rushes through the underbrush that smear rich greens and browns and gold across the screen. It’s a beautiful movie, but it also feels like a love poem to something the world is in danger of losing, the fires and clangs of industry and capitalism having no place in the small yet teeming world of this mysterious profession. Like its namesake little fungus, a movie like this is a rare, valuable treat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.

Entertainment

Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef,¬†Cuong Nguyen¬†will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.

Victoria

Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.

Queensland

BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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