LIFF25: Happy People: A Year In The Taiga - DVD Review

'without Herzog, this voiceover just wouldn't have the same weight, although the imagery would probably stand on its own'

There's a very odd juxtaposition within Happy People: A Year In The Taiga, which you'll probably notice almost immediately. The film is the work of Dmitry Vasyukov who spent time capturing on film the people of The Taiga, an ecoregion in the middle of Siberia. Narrating, producing and (according to the credits but not IMDb) co-directing though is Werner Herzog, he of the biblically-toned voice. The juxtaposition has Herzog on one side and the Americans used to translate the Russian speaking subjects on the other. One moment Herzog is talking about his favoured subjects (life and the potential for impending doom) and the next, someone with a voice the complete opposite of Herzog's is rather amateurishly emoting the words of a Russian trapper. Needless to say, it doesn't work.

That said it's not enough to ruin what at times is a remarkable documentary. This doesn't have great insight into the human soul or massively important things to say about isolation. It's just one of those documentaries that has managed to find a beautiful subject and location and has captured both of those elements with some lovely camera work. Sometimes that's all you need to make a great film.

Herzog, of course, has a ball with the narration. 'He resembles prehistoric man' the German says of one of the Russian trappers, walking along a path to his hut, 'from a distant ice age'. Those nine words must take him close to fifteen seconds to say. Without Herzog, this voiceover just wouldn't have the same weight, although the imagery, which occasionally looks like something out of a fairy-tale, all wooden cabins, isolation and cold food stores, would probably stand on its own.

The story gets structure from both the seasons and the fact that it follows three trappers who are together for moments of the year and apart at other times. This works well in forming a framework for you to follow but really you could present this sort of thing in any way you wanted and most observers would be besotted. It's thematically fairly empty and it doesn't invite or attempt interpretation but whilst its not doing those things it does everything else remarkably well.

Happy People: A Year In The Taiga plays LIFF25 on Sunday 13th November at 20.30. It is released on DVD on Monday 28th November.

Look further...

'for Herzog, this type of life is perhaps close to his ideal of happiness – peaceful isolation, living off of the land' - Film Balaya, 4/5

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