Documentary Review: Happy People: A Year In the Taiga (2010)

Release Date: September, 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Werner Herzog, Dmitry Vasyukov
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Narrated by: Werner Herzog

Studio Babelsberg, 90 Minutes


*written in 2014.

Happy People: A Year In the Taiga is a documentary by Werner Herzog that follows the people living in the village of Bakhtia along the Yenisei River in the Siberian Taiga. It mostly focuses on trappers but follows others with different occupations that help contribute to the overall well-being of all the people within their small community. The documentary also gives some insight into the lives of the native Ket people from that region.

The film goes on to show a way of life that hasn’t changed in over a century. Other than having a few machines to make life a bit easier, the people of Bakhtia still exist in virtually the same way that they always have. It is a unique and simple way of life that is not only hard but extreme for those of us looking through our television sets. To those of us in the first world, it is something so foreign and seemingly archaic. But one can’t not respect the lives of these tough people, who really are the hardest and most badass beings on this planet.

While the footage was originally filmed by Dmitry Vasyukov for a television film he made. The footage was re-edited and narrated by Wener Herzog for this more fleshed out theatrical version.

This film was pretty great to watch. It was slow at times but it was never boring, as it gave one a direct and intimate view of these people. Their words and advice on life, through their experience living in such harsh conditions, was fascinating. It was a thoroughly engaging film that I was pulled into from the start.

Herzog’s narration was enjoyable. From his deadpan humor and his awesome German accent, he kept the scenes moving and helped weave this wonderful tale. Furthermore, his re-editing of the material was well done. This is now one of my favorite Herzog documentaries.

I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to watch some tough men doing tough shit, living in tough conditions against the odds. While this life is somewhat romanticized in the film, it did make me yearn for a simpler time when there was less materialism and life was pretty straightforward. Granted, I’d never want to have to weather these insane conditions.

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