Happy People: A Year in the Taiga - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga Reviews

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½ October 29, 2017
Remember Werner Herzog speaking on the topic of nature while filming Aguirre, Wrath of God?

"...and the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain."


In his recent film, "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga", he's done a complete about-face, creating a paeon to nature:  a cross between a Leni Riefenstahl-style "Bergfilme" and a Disney documentary.
Let's not forget, this is a director who created a definitive cinematic statement on man's powerlessness against nature - "Aguirre - The Wrath of God" In that film nature is an irresistable force that causes only madness and death.

 Even as recently as" Grizzly Man" there was an ominous undertone to his depiction of the natural world. Gradually though, as in "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and E"ncounters at the End of the World, " his view has become much more sanguine. And by that I don't mean "bloody".

"The Happy People" features self-reflective, ethnic-Russian fur-trappers, musing philosophically as they conquer nature with a series of canny traps, self-made gadgets, dugout canoes, and home-brewed insect repellent (along with snowmobiles, chainsaws and plastic sheeting). I find this sort of thing very enjoyable, there's a Robinson Crusoe-esque self-reliant quality that seems like a good antidote to the anxiety of modern life.

The problem I had with "The Happy People" isn't want Herzog puts in, it's what he leaves out. He barely touches on the indigenous "Ket" people of that region of Siberia, who are at the bottom of the social order.  They are plagued by alcoholism, and their culture and language are disappearing. These are not the "Happy People". They are like the mythological Eris, left out of the wedding of Peleus and Thetis ,and it would have been more fruitful for Herzog to explore their discord. They in fact invented many of these canny traps and techniques that the Russians use.

But Herzog now seems to be beyond provocation and provocativeness.  He's in a steady groove that ignores reality but garners good reviews all around. Kael's comments on later Scorcese seem applicable:
"He has become a much more proficient craftsman... but the first films he did that I responded to intensely - Mean Streets and Taxi Driver had a sense of discovery. He was looking into himself and the world.... Even though Scorcese shows what he can do in some ways, he doesn't shape the material." (Conversations with Pauline Kael, p. 167)

I have some other quibbles. Could a man really travel 150 kilometers in -50F weather at night in a snowmobile? I don't think "Survivorman" would try this with the best gear.  How would you survive if your snowmobile breaks down? How do you get out of bed when it's that cold? How do you wash yourself? How happy a person are you when a tooth becomes infected?

Creative people often have a brief shining period of amazing originality, followed by years of reputation-coasting. It's unreasonable to expect everyone to be Picasso.  Herzog has become a master emcee.  I'll remember his earlier work.  I'll remember Woody Allen's "earlier, funnier films" too.

In the meantime, may I recommend the low-budget film "Alone in the Wilderness", the story of a man who builds himself a log cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with just hand tools.  Think of it as  "The Happy People" without the quirky Bavarian voice-over.
½ August 1, 2017
A warm & uplifting documentary of a group of men that hunt & spend their winters in some of the coldest locations man can tolerate & survive in -50-60 in Siberia.

The film in a carefree manner captures the genius & eccentricity of the men & how incredible their talent & practical skills are.

As the title suggests they are clearly Happy Individuals that live unique but rich lives in the harsh wilderness.
January 4, 2017
"No laws, no bureaucracy, no phone, no radios".
This is a kind of films that it makes you fell how the world is much bigger than your house, your bed and your Iphone. Another masterpiece produced by Herzog with the Russian director Vasyukov.
December 2, 2016
Fantastic. So genuine and admirable these folks are...
A very fulfilling documentary, especially if you enjoy winter camping :)
November 5, 2016
After I watched "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga," I was reminded of a letter that Roger Ebert wrote to Werner Herzog in appreciation of Herzog dedicating his 2008 documentary, "Encounters at the End of the World" to Ebert. In his letter, Ebert wrote that Herzog is like "the storytellers of old, returning from far lands with spellbinding tales." Luckily, we exist in an age where Herzog can take his camera on his voyage to these distant lands and return with a film that captures the stunning landscapes and remarkable lifestyles of a people and culture that's so far from our own.
October 4, 2016
It's like National Geographic or Planet Earth on human beings. I'm kind of confused on how the filmmakers were able to capture all this being this remote, but this is a wonderfully made film that breaks down the barriers of the necessities of human life by capturing this lifestyle.
½ June 21, 2016
Pretty plain documentary with subpar cinematography. But I always get a kick out of Werner Herzog's narration.
½ June 8, 2016
A fascinating immersion into a way of life that will be so foreign to most viewers, it will captivate. And it derives much of its power from the narration of Werner Herzog, whose hypnotic voice conveys his enthrall with people doing what would be unimaginable to us: spending nearly every waking moment in the company of nature and hard work to survive. With no complaints.
October 21, 2015
I don't even know why I love it so much.
October 10, 2015
another unforgettable journey thru Siberia with director Werner Herzog
½ July 25, 2015
Very Well done. This is really a documentary, and the title is misleading, but it is a good watch.
June 6, 2015
Beautifully shot, honest in its observation and heartwarming. We can all learn a thing or two from these people who live simply, who are active, self-sufficient and all at the same time content with everything they do.
½ March 30, 2015
I didn't know this was a Herzog movie until after watching it. I thought it was awesome, but not what I'm use to from the director. It's the kind of movie that I find very underwhelming, but that's a part of it's charm. With Herzog I expect extreme escapism and this movie didn't deliver. I think it's because the movies I've seen by him the scenery is a big part of the experience, and in this movie the people in the movie are up front and center. And they deserve it. I really respect their way of life. Then again, where I live the forest is a lot like the forest in the movie so maybe me being very familiar with the scenery makes me not really notice.
½ February 11, 2015
If it was some sort of passion that drove Herzog to produce this film, that passion was likely frozen under the river during that Siberian winter wanting to be thawed out. Thankfully, the moving pictures speak for themselves, but they don't necessarily speak of happiness here. A scenic documentary, nonetheless, and one worth seeing many times even if only for its scenery.
January 21, 2015
I watched it more for the scenery and visuals, which did not disappoint. I didn't really feel one way or another about the people presented in the movie, but did enjoy seeing the companionship between the hunters and their dogs. I didn't really get the title "Happy People". "Satisfied People" might have been more appropriate. Or maybe "Content People". Regardless, it's a good movie if you're looking for visuals and a moment in the lives of people from other parts of the world, but it doesn't feel too new, doesn't really convey any sort of message, and isn't necessary viewing.
½ December 3, 2014
Great documentary about life in the Russian Taiga.
½ December 1, 2014
I loved this movie. A fascinating insight into the hunters' yearly tasks in preparation for the hunting season. I was amazed by their axe-handling skill.
September 14, 2014
I love Werner Herzog's documentaries and this is another excellent one. A very interesting look at the lives of these trappers who go about their business in the harshest of conditions using primitive tools, yet being very content with what they do. A great look at a very different culture, I really enjoyed this one. Check it out!
Super Reviewer
August 28, 2014
Werner Herzog's, Happy People is yet another example of what makes him a good filmmaker. It's observant, beautifully shot, and restrained in its narration, letting the images and people speak for themselves. The film follows a group of trappers in the incredibly brutal and remote Siberian Taiga. So isolated, this area can only be reached by boat or helicopter, and only during certain times. Herzog captures this vastness beautifully, giving us expansive shots of the barren landscape, in its boldness and its breathtaking nature. Here we get intimate insights in to the men and women who brave this land, who, in their simplicity and assuredness, offer a lot of profound insight.

Visually, the film is stunning, as Herzog's work tends to be. Here Herzog is able to put to film something that seems surreal, it is so foreign to us. It is always engaging, and features just the right mix of narration, images, and dialoged from the trappers. Herzog lets what they say unfold organically, and the shots he is able to captures are nothing short of astonishing.

An excellent documentary.

4/5 Stars
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