Happy People: A Year In The Taiga Review

HAPPY PEOPLE - A YEAR IN THE TAIGAThe following review was written two years ago when this movie was being featured at 2011’s Green Film Festival.  I still am somewhat perplexed over the amount of time it took for this, a Werner Herzog film, to finally get distribution in America.  Nevertheless, here it is, set to open in the Bay Area this Friday, the 22nd.  Here is what Tom had to say about the film when it first came out.

four-stars4The title “Happy People” seems a strange one for this film if you are not familiar with Herzog and his work.  It revolves around an intensely isolated village in one of the harshest climates in the world as the people there work.  For Herzog, this type of life is perhaps close to his ideal of happiness – peaceful isolation, living off of the land, as he’s searched through many different climates in his different film subjects.

Bakhtal is the name of the village, located in the center of Siberia.  It is far from any other settlement and has no roads or railroads to anywhere – if you want to enter or exit the town, you must either helicopter or travel by river; the river, however, is only unfrozen for three months a year.  The town is inhabited by mostly hunters and trappers who live entirely self-sufficiently and then sell their goods elsewhere, generally in exchange for alcohol.  The trappers are the primary subject, and we follow their lives for a year.  We see how they work, how everything they do is so primitive but yet complex and perfected through centuries’ testing.  We also get to see how in touch with nature they are, to a degree that very few peoples are today.

The film itself is enjoyable to watch, and even though Herzog is mellowing in his age the film still has some delightful Herzogisms.  The visuals are fantastic and capture the details in the change of terrain through the seasons, such as the river’s slow changes throughout the year.  The only problem I found with the film was the obnoxiously dead-pan translators; subtitles would perhaps have worked better than the awful voice-actors they hired.  Otherwise it’s a great film and a good addition to the Herzog library, co-directed by Dmitry Vasyukov.

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