Happy People showcases the small, happy world of a Siberian trapper
In the spare yet grand Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, co-director and tour guide Werner Herzog talks us through one season cycle in the life of a not-of-this-century trapper in the Siberian town of Bakhta, population 300. We follow Anatoly Soloviev puttering through the forested vastness and over the frozen Yenisei River with a husky leashed to his snowmobile. Soloviev checks his traps, explains how to select wood for ski-making, tells us how there's easy game to be had because the crust atop the snowdrifts isn't strong enough for moose to walk on without falling through and then struggling to move. These scenes will inspire many viewers to imagine a go at this fat-of-the-land life. Building a trap for sable, Soloviev explains that he's doing it the same way that Siberians have for generations; other than that snowmobile and a chainsaw, he could be toiling under the rule of the czars. Soloviev's world is presented simply, with little comment, at a pace in which viewers can sink into it and start to feel the place. Co-director Dmitry Vasyukov's digital photography is somewhat muddy, with objects and creatures blurring against the backgrounds. This is especially apparent toward the end, when winter has hit and Soloviev, gathering trapped sable, picks his way though snow-bent branches and harsh white horizons. A yellowish aura surrounds him at times, a testament to the expenses that were spared. It's fitting that this film of people making do with what they have should itself look somewhat humble, without lyricism -- a work not of beauty, but of work.
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