"Happy People: A Year in the Taiga": True Cinematic Pleasure

So this is Werner Herzog phoning it in: cutting down another director's film from four hours to one-and-a-half, ruminating on the imagery at hand, and slapping on his own trademark mad-Teuton narration. Not that we're complaining. Director Dmitry Vasyukov's original project, a nature documentary for Russian TV, did the legwork of dwelling at length in a remote Siberian village of some 300 souls who, says Herzog, "live by their own rules, but according to the dignity of nature." With the seasons imposing a narrative, Herzog's voiceover imposes a theme, idealizing the pre-modern purity of the villagers' survivalism. This suits the innately cinematic pleasure of watching resourceful people make stuff from scratch amid stunning scenery. One wizened trapper, habituated to wintering within his allotted 1,500 square kilometers with only a dog for company, speaks sensibly of centuries-old skills, and what this man can do with just a hatchet certainly entitles him to the occasional use of chainsaw or snowmobile. In rare moments of repose he looks like a cover portrait on the paperback of some great Russian novel, reminding us that what we're seeing here is a very deep culture indeed. Self-reliance is of its essence, but it doesn't hurt to appreciate the cooperation — Vasyukov's visitation plus Herzog's meditation — by which its chroniclers have shared it with the rest of us.

My Voice Nation Help

Jonathan, you almost ran me away from your review with your first sentence. When I saw it in preview, my first thought was, "OK, this reviewer thinks this is a lesser effort from Herzog", and I came close to filing that away as part of my perception of the movie and moving on. I guess I wanted to further explore your thesis, so I clicked through to the complete article, and found out that you actually recommend the movie. Think how many people won't click through and will have the opinion that this isn't a good Herzog project because of how your first sentence is written.


Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Powered By VOICE Places

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.