It’s been a long drought for us moviegoers. Although the lack of big-theater experiences can’t be compared either in inconvenience or pain to the horrors of Covid-19, if I’m honest (and I occasionally am) I still admit missing walking up to the box office, settling back into a darkened house, and watching large people play out their dramas on the silver screen. Now, it’s easily as important to me as the opportunity to go maskless (almost) without fear or to rub elbows in a crowd to return to that somewhere over the rainbow world.
I’ve done it only twice so far. Early on, we took in IN THE HEIGHTS, set in (of course) NYC’s Washington Heights. The name that dominated the whole production was Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, though he had much less to do with this one than he did with that historical tour de force. It’s a multicultural, multiracial production that shows fault lines between two dominant groups of the heights–those of Puerto Rican heritage and those from the Dominican Republic. The conflict, predictably, is as the line from the pop song (not from the show) says, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Same conflict as in West Side Story’s “I want To Be In America.” You’d think the theme would be played out by now, but unfortunately not so. I must say the whole thing is Broadway-derivative and a bit too heartwarming and sentimental if you examine it too closely. But if you accept it for what it is and enjoy the return of movie magic, it’s a winner.
From the urban America of IN THE HEIGHTS, we take you now to rural Italy and the adventures of a bunch of old–and I do mean old–guys and their canine companions as they scrabble through the forests in search of the rarest and most expensive fungi in the world.
THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS refers both to the humans and their doggie partners who labor mightily to bring this delicacy from their near-poverty dwellings to the plates of the hoi polloi worldwide.
I’d always thought of truffle hunters (when I thought of them at all) as pigs, but apparently dogs are really good at it also. The film centers on the close relationships between the men (and their families) and the animals who scour the woods in search of this apparently exquisite treat. We see not only the hunt, but the ridiculous attitude economically upper class humans bring to the whole enterprise. Hunks of truffles are ensconced in wine glasses and passed from nose to nose as people make pretentious noises every bit as pompous as those which sommeliers spout over vintners’ artistry.
As heartwarming and lovely as the truffle warriors themselves are, it is hard to ignore the sense of class oppression and exploitation that comes along with an enterprise that plunders the labor and pain of the workers and transforms it into huge profits for the fat and sassy. But that’s an old story and one certainly not limited to the world of high-class fungi, and it’s certainly not what the The old guys feel about themselves. They and their dogs are the center of the story, and they are as genuine and honest and touching as they can be.
The film is undoubtedly too slow for some, but I found it overall endearing and a great testimony to the capacity for human happiness even in the face of what from the outside looks like adversity and disadvantage.