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|Index||16 reviews in total|
Solid and straightforward illumination of the ways in which a few
fur-trappers live and work year-round in the Siberian Taiga.
Starting in Spring, we follow the stoic men on their seasonal routines in the village of Bakhtia on the Yenisei river. The utterly unique sight and sound of that big old river thawing and moving and creaking under the warm sun is totally sublime. With the onset of summer, the villagers participate in a fishing frenzy while fending off massive swarms of mosquitoes by rubbing tar all over themselves, their kids and their dogs. As autumn brings torrential rains, the water level rises and the trappers anxiously begin boating their heavy supplies into the vast forest. They begin repairing their traditional traps scattered throughout the expanse while re-constructing their personal wooden huts, which they will use as shelters along their treks through the deep snow.
Other than one hilarious moment showing an alternatively modern fishing method, most all preparations for the long and lonely winter of work in the wilderness are performed according to very old cultural traditions. The simple and skilled construction of skis, traps, canoes, and huts from natural materials is shown with a patient fascination that draws us into a culture uniquely connected to the earth.
Herzog's narration adds insight and a quirky humor to this otherwise forthright film. His patent deadpan humor -- largely deriving in his over-enunciated German accent -- and his honest admiration of these self-reliant men living off the land in total freedom from materialism and bureaucracy is refreshing, even if a bit romanticized.
This is the quality you dream discovery channel had..maybe they did
years ago. We get to follow the lives of fur trappers in remote
siberia. It gives insight to how we lived before the 9-5 jobs at least
in scandinavia its probably the best wilderness documentary I've seen.
Its down to earth and the scenery is jawdropping. Its a hard but honest life and a lot of humanity yet still the wilderness stares back at you from the screen.
If you like documentaries with ray mears or expeditions with lars monsen this for you. Without the drama or the smugness of teaching you get to follow how they have learned to live with nature and not against it.
And its not focused with misery just because they are off grid and not part of the consumer hysteria (amazing).
Its nice for once not having to do a review to warn viewers but instead recommend it. Watch this you will not be sorry.
Saw this one a couple of years ago and was really stunned with the
quality of this documentary.
Movie crew lived through a year in Bakhta, small simple village of huntsmen and fishermen in Siberia, and they have done an amazing job of showing how simple life, hard (you bet) labour and everlasting circle of life make people... pure. Happy.
There's not a hint of falseness, no pathos, no complaints. And that's probably what got to me the most: perfect documentary, no opinion imposed, just showing this life 'as is' - and the clarity of it strikes you, urban people, deep to the core.
Must see, really.
If you like Werner Herzog then this film won't disappoint. His style is simple, honest and transparent. He gives you a clear sense of the reality of what most people would perceive to be a harsh way of life in the Russian Taiga. We see humans who are connected to the cycles of nature, to the animals, the forest and to their traditions. There is a quiet wisdom and deep joy in this way of life and the film serves as a powerful contrast to virtually every other piece of media being made today. The film is like poem to a way of life that now seems like a distant dream. It is beautifully shot, with vignettes that look like they are living paintings; Russian characters from the time of Tolstoy or Dostoyevesky.
"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."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Co-Directors Dmitry Vasyukov and Werner Herzog takes us to one of the
harshest parts of the world partly inhibited by people Siberian
Taiga. Documentary Happy People: A Year in the Taiga invites to follow
how lives of local fur-trappers are effected by the cycles of nature.
Brisk spring, shortest summer and cold fall followed by forever lasting winter the only rule created by Taiga. The only imposed rule otherwise truly free people equipped only with individual values have to follow. Self-sufficiency and seemingly primitive methods perfected hundreds of years ago are passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Trapping, skis making, canoe carving, food preparation or fishing are true traditions and legacy small community of 300 people wants to preserve.
"You can take everything from the man, everything, but you can't take his craft."
Documentary Happy People: A Year in the Taiga resembles raw video footage and thus serves the purpose very well. Seemingly wintry demeanor so common to people from the North is warmed by intimate stories and confessions dog that becomes a family member, unwritten code of hunting, respect for the past, timeless traditions, unconditional love for Taiga and overwhelming enormity of solitude.
"You see that everything is going forward as it should. It gives you a sense of job being done. And it is not you who are doing it, but you still feel a part of it."
Werner Herzog once again tackles the man against nature theme, as he did with Grizzly Man previously. In that feature, he followed a guy living happily amongst a group of bears, until a very unfortunate ending. This time, he ventures to Siberia to tell the story of sable trappers battling the freezing cold and other elements in the frozen tundra of the Soviet Union. The scenery is spectacular, and the day to day lives of the inhabitants interesting to see from a modern western perspective. I love the Huskies, who accompany the hunters during the brutal conditions with seeming content. As for the humans, they seem to be satisfied with their physically demanding but rewarding lifestyles. Herzog narrates, as usual, with an attitude of respect for his subjects. He spends the ninety minutes sticking to the visual beauty of the wilderness from overhead to underwater shots below the frozen river. An interesting documentary.
I have recently seen my first 2 Werner Herzog documentaries, Into the
Abyss and Grizzly Man and I loved both of them and so came to Happy
People with high hopes. It was a bit of a let-down.
Firstly, most people seem to give Herzog all the credit here yet he did not go out to Siberia to film any of his 'own' documentary. Whilst he shares directorial credit, Dmitry Vasyukov did all the beautiful camera-work and put in the hard days living in those conditions, so he must get the lion's share of the plaudits.
Secondly, the film purports to be aboutthe lives of the villagers yet the vast majority of the film concerns one trapper. The film follows him and his dogs around as he goes about his life hunting animals in the wild. We learn next to nothing about the lives of the women or children in the village, and there are only sporadic moments featuring other menfolk. It felt as if the film was about this one hunter and the rest of the people in it were just context for his life.
Thirdly, where are the 'happy people' the title refers to? I didn't see any particularly happy people in the film. I think the principle behind the film was to give the impression that people who lead simpler, remote lives are happier than the rest of us, but i saw no evidence of this whatsoever. The men who were shown collecting logs, who referred to their universal alcohol problems, looked particularly UNhappy. These people lead very difficult lives in extreme conditions. I'm not saying they were going around looking miserable, but they certainly weren't jumping for joy at their wonderful lives. It seems a bizarre title for the film.
Finally, I like to learn from documentaries but I also like to be entertained and I found this film just a bit boring. This is not to say there are no good points ... there are scores of beautiful nature shots and it is an interesting look into a completely different way of life. That was not enough for me to make it a recommendation.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
This documentary was co-directed and narrated by Werner Herzog but it didn't gather as much attention as some of the filmmaker's previous films, which is a shame because this here is another winner. The film covers a full year with several trappers as we see what they seasonal lives are all about. This includes various traps that they must make, issues they face in the wilderness and some of the most fascinating stuff dealing with them living in the bitter cold winters where temperatures reach fifty-below zero. HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA is a really good film and nothing short of what you've come to expect from Herzog. From what I've read, co-director Dmitry Vasyukov actually spent the time in Bakhtia, Russia and the footage was then turned over to Herzog. Even though the famed Germany director wasn't actually on the ground, this here still comes across as his film and it contains that certain love and joy that some of his best work has. This film is yet another in a long line of films that take a look at people living in horrid condition yet being completely happy in their environment. Herzog has always been able to take "off" characters and make them seem normal. That's what happens here as we track these trappers as they go from one hunt to another while having to deal with nature and come up with creative ways to trap and live. Herzog offers up his typical great narration but the real people are certainly the stars here as we get to really know them and understand why they love doing what they do.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Werner Herzog's "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga" is comprised of
footage shot for another documentary by Russian director Dmitry
Vasykov. Vasykov's film, roughly four hours long, detailed the lives of
trappers living in the Siberian wilderness. Impressed with Vasykov's
material, Herzog reassembled the footage, added his own structure and
voice over narration.
"We are all killers and accomplices," one trapper says, "even those who are kind hearted." The rest of the film crawls its way through material familiar to Herzog fans. We watch as tiny men struggle to survive in the wild and struggle to stay sane amidst a Nature which threatens to suffocate. Herzog's trappers spend much of their time alone, at war and stuck in an ongoing cycle in which they fight the elements. Each potion of the year seems spent preparing for the next.
There are some moments of humour, like one scene in which a ridiculous politician visits the Taiga, but for the most part Herzog's customary absurdity is absent. Likewise, though there are some sublime sequences (night time shots of a snow-capped village, for example), the majority of the film lacks Herzog's unique eye. This is understandable, as Herzog shot no footage himself.
Some have found Herzog's portrayal of the Siberian wilderness to be cosy and romantic, but this is to misread the film. The "Happy People" of Herzog's title is partially ironic, his film focusing on a kind of tired drudgery. Locals are alcoholics, there is no paid work, men are separated from their families and the trappers live solitary lives seemingly torn from the Myth of Sisyphus. Perhaps only Western eyes can romanticise what Herzog shows here; his characters show no signs of pursing material possessions, are far removed from all pop culture trappings and are busy clinging to skills and traditions which seem on the verge of being lost to time. To some, this conveys a very specific form of nostalgia.
On another level, though, the film's title is very sincere. These trappers are men locked in a kind of Herzogian "natural state", free from modern neuroses, modern wants, manufactured desires and content with the fruits of their labour, their living conditions and their lots in life. They don't moan, but knuckle down and get on with things. Herzog challenges our notions of contentment and happiness on one hand, whilst also deglamorising a kind of fashionable survivalism on the other.
7.9/10 One of Herzog's more conventional documentaries. Incidentally, the film features a relative of famed Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Worth one viewing.
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