26 September 2023

The Mushroom Speaks

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Reviewed by Hannah Spencer.

Director: Marion Neumann, 2021, Intermezzo Films, 89 MINS.

When I was a teenager and not much interested in documentaries, my boyfriend tried to sell them to me with “you’re learning things, but it’s FUN”.

Whilst a tad reductive I couldn’t really disagree with his logic.

Later I realised they can be damn good works of film not just a passive way to learn things.

I had high hopes that The Mushroom Speaks would not only teach me about the mysterious fungi domain but would be a beautifully shot film as well.

Sadly, it leaves you uninformed and generally underwhelmed.

Marion Nuemann’s second documentary tries very hard to make the audience fall in love with the world of the mushroom.

It is a slow meditative work, interspersed with poetry and lingering landscape shots, intended to give the audience space to discover that there is “something sacred” hidden in the underground world.

However, the result is a whimsical, meandering work which would benefit from more decisive directorial choices and editing.

Lacking a narrative voice over, and with rambling interviews, the audience is left floating in Nuemann’s personal meditation.

Lengthy shots of woodlands and night-time traffic should be exquisite, but the cinematography doesn’t quite hit the mark.

The Mushroom Speaks is a stark contrast to another recent fungi-focused documentary, The Truffle Hunters (Micheal Dweck & Gregory Kershaw, available on Apple TV+).

Also a slow and meditative film without a narrator, it is mesmerizing with cinematography so stunning you would be forgiven for thinking you were at times looking at a painting.

Where Nuemann does succeed is in the incredible soundscapes created throughout the film.

She has made an incredible discovery in musician and sound artist Olga Kokcharova.

Kokcharova’s first time working on a movie, she was heavily involved throughout production and her work elevates the whole documentary.

Although the world of the mushroom is a niche topic, documentaries are often most rewarding when casting light into a highly specific world the audience would otherwise be unaware of (shout out again to The Truffle Hunters!).

A plethora of interesting topics are covered, in particular, studies to cultivate mushrooms that feed on oil spills and other man-made pollution.

However, by trying to cover too much ground and with a lack of clear direction, the viewer is left frustratingly uninformed.

Sad for the viewer and sad for the mushrooms.

2 out of 5 stars

Screening at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Sydney, NSW.

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