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The Mushroom Speaks review – an eccentric, awe-struck ode to fungi | Movies

At once earthy and magical, fungi not only link us to the origins of life itself but also open doors to alternate realms of consciousness. In Marion Neumann’s loose-limbed documentary, just the latest in a string of films that opine on its enigma, the mushroom can even save the world.

Compared with the surreal time-lapse photography of Louie Schwartzberg’s Fantastic Fungi (2019) or the rustic charm of Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s The Truffle Hunters (2020), Neumann’s approach is more free-wheeling and eccentric. Interviews with a wide host of fungi lovers – who include scientists, culinary specialists and devoted enthusiasts – delve into the generative power of mushrooms with vigour and optimism. Considering that the cultivation of fungal cultures has allowed us to ease our physical ailments as well as repair damaged ecosystems, the film posits that, beyond a transactional relationship, humans can also model our behaviours after the virtues of the mushroom. Mycelium, the word that describes the thread-like structure of fungal colonies, is often brought up, suggesting that humanity should aspire to such interconnectedness in the face of increasing ecological disasters.

The conventionally shot expert interviews are juxtaposed with more abstract images, which zoom in on germinating spores or colourful moulds growing in laboratory dishes. At once alienating and familiar, the strange beauty of these kaleidoscopic forms brings to mind the experimental short films of Stan Brakhage; instead of a voiceover, these sequences are stamped instead with Neumann’s philosophical, poetic captions that muse on the transcendental qualities of the mushroom. The patience, care and sheer awe that emanate from how Neumann observes these fungal configurations is inspirational, nudging us to inspect our surrounding environment with the same rigour and curiosity.

The Mushroom Speaks is available on 24 February on True Story.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash