Movie Review: 'Happy People: A Year in the Taiga' -- 2.5 stars
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Documentary by Werner Herzog, Dmitriy Vasyukov
Werner Herzog spent the holiday season on the big screen, playing the bad guy in the Tom Cruise flop "Jack Reacher." So it's nice to find him back on familiar ground with "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga," the filmmaker's latest documentary look at a far-removed culture at an extreme end of the earth.
In this case, Herzog and co-director Dmitriy Vasyukov chronicle the people of Bakhtia, a remote village deep in Siberia. The 300 hardy souls who live there brave a host of impossible living conditions: below-zero temperatures, blinding snowstorms, swarms of mosquitos and an absence of commerce. There are impossible travel conditions, as well as endless darkness during the winter and 20 daily hours of light when it's summer.
Colored with the filmmaker's typically philosophical narration, the movie reveals a hardy people who have adapted to their difficult environs with a host of innovations, including unique traps for hunting, natural insect repellent and more. Bakhtia's citizenry is a testament to mankind's endurance, while the movie offers an affecting portrait of survival and love amid the harshest conceivable conditions.
But unlike similarly-themed past Herzog documentaries, among them "Grizzly Man" and "Encounters at the End of the World," "Happy People" plays like a pedestrian Discovery channel special.
Instead of a full-fledged portrait of life in Bakhtia, the filmmakers stick to the village's trappers, observing their day-to-day existences over the course of a year. The extraordinary becomes mundane and the larger considerations -- the weighing of man's role in the universe -- that set apart the best of Herzog are largely missing here.