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In the center of the story is the life of the indigenous people of the village Bakhtia at the river Yenisei in the Siberian Taiga. The camera follows the protagonists in the village over a period of a year. The natives, whose daily routines have barely changed over the last centuries, keep living their lives according to their own cultural traditions. The expressive pictures are accompanied by original sound bites quoting the villagers. Written by
Eike Wolf / Head of Corporate Communications, Studio Babelsberg
"Happy People: A Year in the Taiga" is the latest in a series of nature documentaries by Werner Herzog (here with co-direction by Dimitry Vasyokov), this one chronicling life in a Siberian village over a twelve-month period. Bakhta is located alongside the Yenisei River in the Taiga Forest, and the inhabitants there have been eking out an existence under some pretty challenging conditions for centuries now (this is Siberia, after all). We watch as they make preparations for trapping, build cabins in the wilderness, fashion out canoes from old tree trunks, fish in the river, fend off bears and mosquitoes, and store up supplies for the brutal winter to come. For this is life as it is lived in one of the most misbegotten outposts of civilization. As Herzog himself says, these people resemble early Man from a distant ice age. And, yet, as the title implies, the inhabitants of Bakhta are far from unhappy with their lot.
This is reflected most in the many wise and canny observations about the value of hard work and the cyclical nature of life emanating from one of the town's most seasoned citizens, a sort of rural philosopher who's been trapping in that area ever since the Communist government dropped him off and left him to fend for himself more than forty years ago. It is his commentary, more than even Herzog's own voice-over narration, that draws the viewer into this strange and unfamiliar world, one that is striking in both its harshness and its stark beauty (the image of a massive river of thawing ice heading swiftly northward during the spring is not one that will be easily forgotten).
This isn't Herzog's most innovative work by a long shot, but if anthropological studies are your preferred fare, this movie will surely fit the bill.
However, a warning may be in order for the hypersensitive viewer: this is NOT a movie that comes with the proviso, "No animals were harmed in the making of this film."
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