The Truffle Hunters

The Truffle Hunters

Directors: Michael DweckGregory Kershaw. Cast: Piero BottoSergio CaudaMaria Cicciù, Carlo Gondola, Aurelio Conterno

One of the most unexpected surprises in quite a while and certainly the most charming and loveliest film I’ve seen this year. On paper it had all the credential to be a snooze-fest: a documentary about old men somewhere in Piedmont in northern Italy, who spend their lives looking for truffles. Well, believe me, there’s so much more to that: Produced by Luca Guadagnino and spoken in a mixture of Italian and strict dialect (thank God for English Subtitles!), this is a portrait of old age and the acceptance of mortality, an ode to simple lives, heartwarming tales of the relationships between the old men and their dogs (the film is as much as the old met than it is about dogs: at some point a camera is strapped to one of them as for a few minutes we become the dogs, running though the woods). And then we get a glimpse of the darker side too: the viscidness that surrounds the trade beyond the actual picking of truffles (including, horror or horrors, dogs poisoned by the envious competitors), the incredible high prices of these tiny roots, and all those posh people willing to spend a fortune for a good meal. And in among all this a splendid theatre of wonderful characters, so perfect, so quirky, so sweet that they feel scripted.

Carlo and his wife in their daily routines, making wines, picking tomatoes, discussing that at 87, it’s now time he stops going out at night looking for truffles.

The beardy guy who swears a lot, disenchanted by the way the market has tainted the job. The man who has a bath with his dog and breaks down to tears as he explains to a policeman who he had 2 dogs poisoned.

And then, Aurelio, the grumpy old man, all alone with nobody to pass his mantle onto and willing to take his secrets to the grave, seemingly selfish but actually desperate to find somebody to take care of his dog as he’s becoming more and more aware of his own mortality: “I’m soon going for a long trip and I might be back” her confesses to dog.

And while all this happens the camera captures it all, in all its beauty, in simple wide shots, unobtrusive, discreet, without any edits.

Little vignettes, tantalising moments, glimpses of lives.I can see how this might not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to let yourself go and immerse yourself in the lives of these wonderful individuals you may even learn something about the beauty of a simple life.

It comes out in spring both in the US and UK.


Cherry ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Directors: Anthony RussoJoe Russo. Cast Tom HollandCiara BravoJack Reynor,Michael Rispoli

Clunky, erratic, over-long, over-stylised, “Cherry” has a script that’s so ridden with cliches that’s almost laughable, while at the same time rips off from films from the likes of Tarantino (even in its chapter-headed structure) or Scorsese (with its use of voice over plastered throughout). Watching this film is a little bit like watching millions of other war films, or films about drug addiction and PSD and bank robbers. We’ve certainly seen it all before, though probably on separate films. This one puts them all together. It looks really impressive and even if stylistically is all over the place (and when I say “all over the place”, I do mean it!! There’s a shot from inside a butt hole! Yes, you heard me right!), I won’t deny that I enjoyed bits of it throughout (though I would have certainly cut at least 20 minutes).

The real thing to take back home from this is a stunning tour-de-force performance from Tom Holland. We’ve always known he was a good actor, ever since his break-out role in the 2012 “The Impossible “, stealing the limelight from Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, but here the fact that the film seems to be a collection of 3 or 4 different films together allows him to show off a wider range of emotions, more that in any other films (well certainly he can’t do too much in Spider-man, though I did like him in there too).

I though he was really impressive in this and I could hardly take my eyes off him (He did remind me of Di Caprio in Basketball Diaries) Not as convincing (though not for lack of trying, but just because she was miscast in the role and she looks way too young) is Ciara Bravo who plays his “love interest” (I’m keeping it keeping this vague to avoid spoilers).

Ultimately “Cherry”, however polished it may look, is just a bit of a mess, full of itself and actually rather hollow, with nothing to add to the tens and tens of film about PSD we’ve seen before (or drug addiction for that matter). Also the tagged-on ending felt so abrupt and un-earned that I couldn’t restrain myself from saying aloud: “really?!?”…. A bit cheap really.I wish I could have liked it more because Holland really deserves some kudos for this (though he is young and his time will come sooner or later), so my 3 stars are only there because of him, but actually the film is a solid ⭐️⭐️

“Cherry” will be released on Apple + in March.

Shortlisted BAFTA Short Films (Part 2)

Lucky Break ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: John Addis. Cast: Jessye Romeo, Steve Oram, Diana Weston

A comedy about a girl who works in a remote service station and is bored out of her mind when a suspicious stranger enters the station, things start to get interesting… This is definitely a silly one, but nonetheless pretty enjoyable. It does however feel a bit more like a well made student film that anything of weight worth of a Bafta awards.

Lizard ⭐️⭐️

Director: Akinola Davies. Cast: Pamilerin Ayodeji, Osayi Uzamere, Charles Etubiebi

I really had no idea what was going on here. I watched it for all its 18 minutes hoping that everything would become clear… but all of a sudden the credits started rolling and surprise surprise… I was really lost: a young girl expelled from a Sunday service, an armed attack in the streets of Laos… a giant lizard! It’s moody, well shot and given the short length it sucks you in… but by the time it all ends you feel like it was a wasted 18 minutes as it was just too impenetrable. I really had no clue what was happening. Here’s the trailer

Miss Curvy ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Ghada Eldemellawy

A short documentary about a beauty contest for “curvy girls” in Uganda and all the controversy around it (does it challenge the stereotypical idea that only slim girls can take place in beauty pageants or does this sort of things dehumanises and humiliates women?)The film follows a mother as she chases her dream to be named the country’s first Miss Curvy. It is personal and yet universal, charming and dark at the same time. The film would actually deserves more time to develop the characters as the beauty contest gets closer and closer. As it is it’s just a little bit tantalising, but in the end slightly fluffy and a bit superficial. Here’s the trailer:

My Brother’s Keeper ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Laurence Topham. Cast: Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Steve Wood

After seeing the “Mauritanian” with Jodie Foster just a few days ago, this short documentary about what happened next feels like a gift. A little post-scriptum to the story of Mohamedou Ould Salah who spent 14 years in Guantánamo prison for being a suspect behind the 9/11 attack, but who never actually got charged. Of his time there he remembers very few good moments, but one of them is the relationship with his American guard, one of the few people who treated him as a human and who he felt safe with. Years later Mohamedou is going to him again. It’s an interesting coda to a story which I am now familiar with, but I wonder I would feel if I had not seen the Mauritanian first.Also I though it was all a bit too tame and didn’t quite go deep enough in exploring the relationship between captor and prisoner. You can watch this here:

The Present. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Farah Nabulsi. Cast: Saleh Bakri, Mariam Kanj, Mariam Basha

A short story about Yusef, a Palestinian man who set out with his young daughter in the West Bank to go shopping for some groceries and to buy his wife a new fridge for his wedding anniversary. Clearly not as easy as it sounds as going through checkpoints (both ways, in and out) is never a walk in the park. The film feels so real and immediate that after a while you might think you’re watching a documentary. Everything is seeing through the eyes of the young daughter which makes it all even more powerful, a real achievement considering the very condensed time. This has also being shortlisted for the Oscar. Here’s a trailer for it.

Shortlisted BAFTA Short Films (Part 1)

The Birth Of Valerie Venus (⭐️)

Director: Sarah Clift. Cast: Jane GuernierPaul HunterMohd Aslam 

A rather frustrated, lonely and long suffering vicar’s wife suffers a little accident which cleaning a statue of the Virgin Mary as a result of that her had becomes “possessed” for lack of a better term and begins to have a life of its own, with strange and supposedly funny consequences. Well, I have to say, not only I did not laugh once (the timing of the comedy seems to be off most of the time and every single scene goes on for twice as long as it should), but also the filming of it seemed to be very student-like and quite pedestrian. Very disappointing.

Dad Was (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Barnaby Blackburn. Cast: Cameron Kerr, Seylan BaxterNicholas EllardPaul Ellard 

The story of young boy somewhere in Scotland who is to give a eulogy at his father’s funeral… It is a heartfelt, beautiful and gentle piece with an unexpected twist at the end which makes everything even more weighty. This is the best kind of short film I can think of: simple, direct and which will stay with you long after they’re over. The little 8 years old boy, Cameron Kerr is wonderful. The pain and grief clearly visible in his eyes and felt in his voice. Beautifully photographed too with its black & white sepia(ish) look matching the mood of the entire piece. You can watch it here.

Dọlápọ̀ Is Fine (⭐️⭐️)

Director: Ethosheia Hylton. Cast: Doyin AjiboyeLuke GasperJoan Iyiola 

A young Black woman facing pressure to change her name and natural hairstyle as she prepares to enter the working world after school. While this story might be very recognisable to many black girls and it’s certainly not something to laugh about, I found it very forced, full of stereotypes and rather clumsy. I appreciated the effort and some of the filming, but on the whole I found it rather weak. Gina McKee’s final cameo redeems it slightly, but not enough to make it worthwhile for me. On Netflix

Eyelash (⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Jesse Lewis-Reece. Cast: Elijah W Harris, Ishtar Currie-Wilson, Frankie Stew

A powerful adaptation of spoken word poet Neil Hilborn’s poem ‘OCD’ (You really get the full scale of the achievement of this short film once you see the original material). The film turns the spoken words of this sad love story into pictures as if it was the most natural thing in the world. A simple but effective adaptation dealing with mental health and breakups. You can watch it here.

Tic Toc (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Mark Waters. Cast: Felix Sanderson, Mike Brompton, Joel Clark

Powerful and affecting short documentary about 16 years old Felix who has Tourette’s Disorder, a condition that affects his brain and nerves and causes him to make uncontrollable movements, tics, sounds and screamsThe film lets him take centre stage as he shares his story to try to break the stigma that his illness carries with it. “The worst feeling in the entire world is not being able to control it” Felix says at one point. There’s a disarming honesty about the piece as the camera gets really close to his handsome face as he confesses “people come to me and tell me “Shut the fuck up”…. He pause… smiles “I would if I could”… then his smile drops and in that moment of silence it’s as if a thousand words are said.“I just feel very pissed off, very agitated… I feel so much anger… but all I’m trying to do is to raise awareness… Because when they tell me to shut the fuck off, it makes my day 10 times worse than it already is. “Here’s the trailer

An American Tail

An American Tail ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Don Bluth. Erica YohnNehemiah PersoffAmy Green, Christopher Plummer

I don’t think I had seen it since the 80s when it was first released. At the time it wasn’t well received as it seemed to go back to old style animation of the 40s instead of trying to push the boundaries forward. It was also a fairly downbeat and dark tale, which lacked the a lot of the humour cartoons were trying to inject at the time (famously Roger Ebert called it “the most depressing children’s movies of all time”) as it seemed to arch back to the mood of Dickens (though transported in America), serving more asa parable for the Holocaust, the Jews persecuted di Russia, and the many stories of immigrants to America. Some of those stories were told to Spielberg (the instigator and producer of this) from his grandfather and a lot of them ended up in this film. All this was clearly a response not just to Disney’s more and more childish and straight forward adaptations of the past few years, but mainly to the cheap techniques from the 70s and early 80s which made Disney animation less magic than it had ever been. Producer and director Don Bluth was actually a key animator on several of those films and often criticise them for looking more and more like TV cartoons. Here the animation, though fairly conventional in terms of camera movements, is beautifully realised, with each single frame painstakingly and lovingly hand-drawn, while the pastel backgrounds have a warm and painterly feel to them in stark contrast to what was being offered at the time.Back in 1986 when this was first released “An American Tail” was the biggest box office of any non-Disney animated feature (It even topped Disney’s The great Mouse detective from the same year) and to a degree its pure existence (and some of the subsequent Bluth’s productions) is credited to be one of the reasons for Disney finally deciding to up their game during what was going to be their golden era (which started with the little Mermaid). In a way the film was a also precursor of what Disney would become with those big Hollywood-style musical pieces (here “There will be no cats in America” is staged and sounds like future Disney hits like “Under the sea” or “Be our Guests”), but also some more care and attention given to the animation, something which had not been seen in a while. It may not be an instant classic nor one of those to revisit over and over again, but it’s certainly an interesting one which deserves to be re-discovered and gain its place in film history. I’ve not seen any of its sequels (one released to the cinema and 2 straight to video) not its TV series (with 13 episodes). Has anyone?

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