Normally, if your dog digs up something a big, smelly blob in the forest, you’d quickly pull the pooch away and go about your business.
Unless you’re in Northern Italy and know what an Alba truffle looks like. Then you might dig it up and sell it to someone for a few hundred Euros.
The Truffle Hunters, directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, introduces us to a strange, literally underground obsession. As the title suggests, it focuses especially on the men, and dogs, who hunt down these aromatic fungi.
Most of them are old, and they love their specially trained dogs almost as if they were children. One shares his food with his favorite dog (Birba) at the dinner table and wonders what’ll happen to him when he dies. (“If we find a wild woman,” he muses, “I’ll leave her the house and she’ll take care of you, Birba.”) Another takes a bath with his favorite truffle-hunting canine.
But we meet others in the truffle trade, too. A truffle middleman announces that he’s found a batch of truffles fit for the president, talking over the phone as he holds the mushrooms up to his nose. Another truffle expert examines them as a jeweler might assess a diamond. At an auction, workers prep a pedestal meant to hold a particularly tasty specimen.
The film carries an almost Wes Andersen-like sense of stage with it, which seems altogether fitting for its delightfully quirky stars. And it should be up for an Oscar. (The Truffle Hunters made the Academy’s short list, but didn’t quite make the final cut of five nominees.) It’s playing in a handful of art theaters around the country, after which it’ll hopefully make a speedy trip to streaming platforms.
And, if you’re so inclined, this inherently earthbound movie can serve as a springboard for some more spiritually minded thoughts. For instance:
God Loves His Hidden Delights. When we humans find something of value, we frame it or throw a spotlight on it or, like some humans do here, put it on a pedestal. God hides this secret treasure in the dirt, makes it as ugly as all get-out and allows it to grow just a few months out of the year. Most of us would walk right on through a truffle-rich forest and never know what was under our feet.
I think about that sometimes in nature—how many of God’s glorious creations we sometimes skip right on by. Some of that’s our fault, of course. God’s trying to teach us to pay attention, to watch for His creativity wherever we are. Often times, our minds are elsewhere. But I think that the Lord also knows how intrinsically rewarding it is to unearth something precious (in this case, quite literally). And He knows that some of us will love and admire stuff that the rest just don’t quite get.
We don’t often think of God as “fun.” But sometimes it seems that the world in which He’s placed us is one, huge scavenger hunt, filled with hidden treasures and precious secrets. And I’d like to think that He smiles when we find one.
We Can Take God’s Good Things and Twist Them. As wonderful as it is to watch these characters do what they do, something darker lurks underneath with these tasty truffles.
Many of these longtime hunters—most of whom have clearly been in the business a looong time—bemoan how the business has changed. Newer hunters don’t do it for fun, they gripe: All they care about is money.
“They know nothing about the forest,” one says. “They want to plunder it. … they kill dogs or they puncture tires!” Some talk about the poison traps they’ve discovered in truffle country—designed to kill a hunter’s beloved, specially trained dog—and one hunter goes to a muzzle-maker to get his dog fitted for a muzzle, hoping to avoid tragedy.
But as I watch, this message goes beyond these obvious villains. Others down the truffle chain treat these hunks of fungi as if they were as precious as gold (and perhaps, ounce for ounce, they may be!). They set the truffles on red pillows and breathe in their aromas and treat them with a reverence which seems outlandish, giving every truffle’s humble beginnings.
The truffle hunters have tons of quirks, but we see in them a genuine love of what they do. Some of the others grimly go about the truffle business with barely a smirk. And it makes you wonder at times which of them are really the more out of touch?
God Made Us For a Reason … and sometimes that reason is to hunt truffles.
It sounds a little silly, but a priest makes that argument directly as he’s talking with Carlo, an 87-year-old truffle hunter. Sure, Carlo won’t likely be hunting truffles for another 87 years. But the priest thinks that Carlo will be still doing what he loves in heaven.
“You’ll continue to be the truffle hunter par excellence,” the priest says. Why? Because clearly, truffle hunting is what Carlo was born to do. He loves it. He’s good at it. Why wouldn’t he still be digging up truffles in the afterlife?
That naturally assumes a great deal about heaven, but I love the thought. If we become more like ourselves in heaven—the people whom God always wanted us to be—our God-given loves and passions would still be a part of us, right?
If you feel like braving a theater, check out The Truffle Hunters. Sure, it’s not Godzilla vs. Kong. But that is a good thing.