The Edinburgh International Film Festival opens with a delightfully apt film for a time when audiences are finally emerging from lockdown into the streets and auditoriums once again. Pig, the debut feature film written and directed by Michael Sarnoski, is an introspective drama, that ponders aspects of grief, loss, love, and human connection. It’s a story of a man returning to civilisation, and through his eyes, allowing others to understand the important things in life.

Rob (Nicholas Cage), is a truffle hunter. He lives a quiet life in a remote woodland cabin, rarely speaking and communicating mostly with his pet foraging pig, largely in clicks and whistles. The only human contact he has is  with Amir (Alex Wolff) a wealthy, well-dressed young luxury food supplier, and recorded cassette tapes of his dead wife’s voice. When not tasting earth, and hunting the precious fungi tubers, Rob bakes, cooks, and ruminates on his deceased wife. On one dark night, his cabin is broken into and his beloved pig stolen from him; he has no choice but to enlist the help of Amir, and sojourn to Portland into the secret dark underworld of chefs and kitchens he left behind long ago.

It’s a surprising film, most especially as Cage delivers one of the most understated and subtle performances in his career. Rob isn’t just taciturn, he’s borderline mute, and the moments when he becomes loquacious are when he has something of value to say. Similarly, Wolff, who spends much of the film wide-eyed with wonder at the ever-growing world that Rob introduces him to, plays a character wrapped in his own sense of loss and confusion. The fraught and difficult relationship between him and his father Darius (Adam Arkin) underscores much of his growth, and plays a major part in the film.

There are moments where the film feels like it’s going off in weird directions, and a few strands of the story which are certainly underserved, or too thinly portrayed. The real magic of it is found in scenes where everything coalesces into something spectacular. Most notably, this happens in the moment where Rob encounters an experimental haute-cuisine chef, played by David Knell, which hammers home everything the film is trying to point out with a touching connection between two kindred souls; one lost, one found.

Although some advance hype for the film quite erroneously hinted that this would be akin to Taken or John Wick (but with a pig), that couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s not to say that it’s a wholly original film, as there are deliberate homages to other movies throughout, and even the ending may feel more than a little too close to that of a well-known family movie. But at the end of the day, Pig is a film telling a simple story with a universal message that stands repeating. Find what you love in life, and cherish it; fight for it when you have to, with truth and sincerity. It’s an understated gem of a film. Much like the truffles around which it centres, there is so much beneath the surface going on – you just need to know where to look.

Screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2021