Film Review: Werner Herzog Introduces You to ‘Happy People’
CHICAGO – In an age increasingly dominated by electronics and man-made comforts, it can be difficult to remember that there are still parts of this spinning planet that are driven by mother nature. One documentarian long-fascinated with the way man interacts with nature is Werner Herzog and he brings his latest, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga,” to the Music Box Theatre this weekend. It’s a minor film from a major director but it’s still a strong one for those interested in its subject matter — how people can still co-exist with and live off the land instead of ignoring or abusing it.
Werner Herzog & Dmitry Vasyukov present the story of the indigenous people of an area of Siberia so distant that it can only be reached by helicopter or boat, and the latter is only possible for the less-than-half of the year that the river is not frozen. We sometimes forget in a city like Chicago of the vast expanses of non-industrialized parts of the world, including most of Siberia, which is one and a half times the size of the entire United States.
|Read Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” in our reviews section.|
Deep in the Siberian tundra lies Bakhtia, a village on the river Yenisei that is home to 300 people, most of who spend their time trapping, hunting, and doing the various chores often required to keep them alive. “Happy People” is a very low-key film, a work in which we watch a man make skis out of a tree, another build a trap for hunting, and spend seasons with men who live off the land. With some very beautiful cinematography, “Happy People” captures a part of the world in a unique way — a part of humanity that is not often seen any more in any form, much less on the big screen.
Herzog is listed as co-director here although he really just took footage shot by Dmitry Vasyukov, also listed as co-director, over a year in the Siberian Taiga and edited it and narrated it. To say, as some have suggested, that this makes it not a Herzog film is just silly. Yes, it was not conceived as one but Herzog’s choices as an editor and his narration very much marks the work as his own. And the film fits so snugly into his non-fiction filmography. In many ways, it is an interesting counterpoint to “Grizzly Man,” a work that illustrated who man should not live with nature. The people in “Happy People” build their lives around the cycles of nature, the seasons that allow hunting & fishing, the trees that allow them to build canoes, etc. These are themes that should be familiar to any fan of Herzog’s work and he definitely puts his thumbprints all over this one, even if he didn’t do so from day one.
Photo credit: Music Box Films