Worlds collide as new threatens old in ‘The Truffle Hunters’, an intriguing portrait of a dying way of life

On the prowl: The threat of change is at the heart of ‘The Truffle Hunters’.

THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS ***1/2 (84 minutes; subtitled) M
Though director Michael Dweck does cover the more modern, opportunistic type of truffle hunters, it’s a very specific tribe of traditional truffle hunter he observes and explores here – and what a compelling, intriguing, intimate portrait he delivers.

In the Piedmont district of Northern Italy exists a breed of elderly truffle hunters whose long-cherished livelihood is increasingly encroached upon by money-hungry newbies who are happy to trespass, invade territory and poison dogs in their hunt for the much-valued item.

Verily, the film could easily have been called The Dog Lovers, with one scene powerfully capturing just how much dogs mean to these old-school truffle hunters.

Clearly reflecting Dweck’s work as a visual artist, the film is an artful, often meditative assemblage of long single takes documenting these people as they deal with buyers, field offers and try coping with their changing world and the mercenary mindset that threatens them.

Delving into the broader business of the truffle trade, Dweck certainly creates a strong sense of the rarefied nature of the truffle world.

In one startling scene the ultra-high quality demanded of truffle buyers is made very clear. Another starkly illustrates how refined the eye and nose of a truffle connoisseur must be so as to assess a good truffle from a mediocre one.

Yet while the film covers the commercial side of the lucrative truffle market, it doesn’t really bother much with explaining what a truffle actually is, or why they are deemed to be so valuable.

It might seem like a glaring omission but it feels deliberate, as though preserving the truffle mystique is central to the film’s charm and allure.

As indeed it is.