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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
ANOTHER EXTREME LIFE EXAMINED BY HERZOGMarch 10 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
Filmmaker Werner Herzog (GRIZZLY MAN, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS), is drawn to extremes and the challenging edge on which some people live their lives. With co-director Dmitry Vasyukov, Herzog takes us the remote heart of the Siberian Taiga and the village of Bakhtia, where about 300 people live on the bank of the Yenisei River virtually untouched by the modern world. This isolated wilderness has no phone connection, running water or medical assistance and can only be reached by river or chopper. With the exception of power saws and snowmobiles, the people maintain their culture and live as they have for hundreds of years, maybe much longer. Herzog’s distinctive narration covers and colors the life of one trapper through four seasons as he hunts, makes his skis, boat and hunter’s cabin. So much was unsaid, but what was on the screen was mesmerizing. It’s good to be reminded that in our day, part of our human family lives in a world nearly unfathomable to the one we enjoy. Big recommendation.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
A Man and his DogsApril 25 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
This documentary takes place in The Taiga Forest eco-region of Eastern Siberia, and as the story opens and various people are interviewed,they all seem to be truly happy although they are all living a hardscrabble existence, and would surely all qualify for government assistance in our country. Yet the men in this community who make their living by trapping [sables primarily] seem to think they have the best of all worlds, in that they are free to choose, work enough to survive and provide for their families, and then enjoy what appears as a cohesive community life with all the others in their small village of approximately 300 people total. The main character Gnady [spelling], a trapper exclaims at the beginning of his interview that no man can ever be considered a true trapper without his dog[s]. He has two hunting dogs at the time of filming, of some mixed lineage, but I would say looked mostly like what you would expect in this hard land - Siberian Huskies. He praised all of them, including the ones who were now too old to hunt with him and whom he says will eat as well as the working dogs. He also calls them his pensioners. Like all true dog lovers he brags about their various exploits and expresses how saddened he is by the fact that his best dogs died too young as both his favorite female and male companion were killed by the same bear, which he quickly dispatched but not before it had killed his two companions.
Gnady is also very proud of his own self sufficiency in the forest, showing how he actually built a hut and and a pair of skis. They fell the trees for the hut and skis, with their most modern piece of equipment being a chain saw. But they make their own wooden wedges to split the giant trees into boards, which they cut shape and plane by hand into the final finished skis.
As with all Werner Herzog films the photography is superb, with its desolate yet breathtaking beauty and the terrific underwater scenes showing the Russian Pike in their natural habitat. And credit should be given to Dmitry Vasyukov as co-producer and who was responsible for most of the scenes, but Herzog, as is typical, does all the narration in his distinctive gravelly voice, although you can distinctly hear Gnady telling him the story in Russian.
A wonderful story of a tough existence, and yet as the title says a Happy Group of People. Highly recommended!
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Not prime Herzog but rewarding nonethelessJuly 7 2013
Roland E. Zwick
- Published on Amazon.com
"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 voiceover 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."
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Not a life of quiet desperationJune 30 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Having just re-watched Nanook of the North)recently, Herzog's Happy People revisits people who live hand-to-mouth in a place where the summers last about as long as a Twitter trend and the winters determine your every action in life. We meet our central characters with a much more serious tone than we met Nanook and his family almost one hundred years ago. Instead of Canada, however, they subside in Siberia with semioccasional modern conveniences (chainsaws and snowmobiles are all that come to mind). The landscapes sometimes remind me of the bleak Wisconsin winters of Stroszek and other times mosquito-infested shots from Grizzly Man.
More importantly, however, is the way the camera reads their faces. These are mostly trappers, men of small stature and tall on wisdom. This is not the stuff of John Colter from The Lewis and Clark Journals or some tough guy with a big truck that defines his manhood-- his existence-- with the fact that he shoots mammals and will show you pictures on his Android if you give him five seconds to get started. No, these are a dying thread of man's survival through the last Ice Age. You see it in their eyes. You catch glimpses of what Elizabeth Gilbert saw in Eustace Conway when she wrote The Last American Man. This is the core of what it means for a man to a man and his dog to do what it takes to not die in conditions that would undoubtedly kill most everyone very quickly. And their faces! Their faces show a happy people. They walk a tightrope between life and death and they do not show fear or disappointment in the world.
This point comes to a climax as Dmitry, our protagonist-trapper, comes to check on one of his trapping sheds late in the winter day, as daylight is slipping away, only to find that a tree has fallen on it and he much now expend thousands of calories-worth of effort to quickly mend the cabin enough to sleep in it that evening. In just about any other film ever made, had this situation arisen, the character would throw a conniption-fit, try to deal with the situation by raising the drama level of the moment (see the truly terrible The Grey)for a fictional example), and that very conflict would draw the viewers in closer (making producers smile with dollar signs). But in this film, Dmitry sucks it up, does the backbreaking work necessary to survive, and shows us a true (Happy People?) nature to himself.
Other films show similar themes and are worth checking out. From the aforementioned Nanook of the North (a film where the climax is building an igloo!) to Dick Proenneke Alone in the Wilderness's 1968 home films of his survival in Alaska with its patient shots of how he built his tools and home. Yet there's something more straightforward and honest about Herzog's depiction of how the sable traps are made and checked all winter long. He shows us how to make skis and make canoes. The ice is treated as a flexible tool depending on what Dmitry wants to do with it. At times he's Van Gogh working that river as his palette. The water, slush, ice, rocks, and other pieces come together to help him paint his way of living. He does things his own way (shoots pike on the line) and has trained his dog to follow him over 100 miles to the Christmas celebration by running on the ice.
This may be Herzog's most honest and straightforward documentary to date. Does that mean you'll like it the most? Probably not. This is a simple film about simple people. They are free and Herzog does them justice by letting them be as free as possible as he shows a year of their lives.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
loved the relationship these people have with their dogs.March 4 2014
- Published on Amazon.com
If you are interested in man's relationship with dogs, this film is a must-see. The dogs, a breed known as the Laika, is a primitive, wolf-like all purpose dog. these people could not survive without their beloved dogs. The film is well worth watching even without the dogs, but they added such a level of interest that I can't recommend this film enough. The scenery is amazing, the narration is outstanding. the only issue I had is the subtitling is printed in white and against a snow-covered backdrop, it's hard to read at times. But watch it anyway. you will love it.