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Werner Herzog took Dmitry Vasyukov’s documentary series on trappers in a remote village in the Russian taiga and turned it into a feature-length documentary replete with Herzog’s unique narration (really shouldn’t Herzog be a universal narrator until he dies?). The film is pretty compelling at its best, showing men working in the kind of primitive extreme nature that Herzog has made a career of featuring, both in fiction and nonfiction. The trappers live hard but relatively free lives. The cinematography is beautiful, although turning the taiga into a beautiful looking film is less challenging than, say, the streets of Newark. We see the four seasons, the animals, the people living a life we cannot live. At the same time, unlike Grizzly Man for example, it’s hard to know what’s new here. Urban people have long been fascinated by people living primitive or more simple lives. These people provide a fantasy many share. Often they are indigenous peoples around the earth, noble savages. Sometimes they are people from dominant races who escape and live like these noble savages. Of course, Happy People shows the very real effects of Russian colonization of the Taiga (and these ethnic Russian trappers are part of a colonizing force), but those two minutes are a minor part of a larger film about the men many want to be. Despite the cliches of the story, it’s overall a very solid documentary.

7/10

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