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Showing 1-10 of 1,524 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 1,575 reviews
TOP 100 REVIEWERon August 1, 2015
I always enjoy seeing documentaries about people in other walks of life, so I gave this movie a go one night. What an interesting way to see the four seasons through the eyes of a Siberian trapper. You'll get to see the usual with this type of film: challenging terrain, tough weather, unpredictable wildlife, remote locale, hard labor, simple life. With all that, the featured trappers and their families seem very content and yes, very happy.

As a dog lover, I was also completely fascinated by the animals who are not only companions, but hunting partners. Dogs running free in the snow and the woods, surefooted on a rough boat ride, chomping fish and raw meat, and hunting. These beasts seem as much at home in the wild as a wolf, and it's amazing to see them at work doing what they were designed for. The trappers treat their dogs as working animals, not pets, and yet it's clear that they also appreciate and care for them deeply. One trapper tells the tale of losing two dogs to a bear attack, and finishes by admitting he was overcome by sadness when one died in his arms.

The daily life of the trappers is a wonder. Working with apparently the sharpest tools on earth (!!) they skin the bark off trees in one swoop, carve a boat from a giant log, fashion thin bentwood skis from wood planks they manually split, and routinely hack their way through the woods. Heads up: trapping sable for the fur trade is their vocation, so you will see a variety of dead animals in traps. The work is hard, yet these trappers seem not only to endure it but also enjoy it.

This movie is well worth the time, and great to watch with children.
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I’ve been a fan of the movies of Werner Herzog ever since the ‘70’s, when Atlanta’s only “art theater” would feature them. In particular, I was moved by his 1977 movie, Heart Of Glass, about the impact on a medieval German village when it lost the knowledge on how to make red glass. (I’ve frequently thought of the parallels with present-day America losing the knowledge and trained workforce that can make so many products). In the ‘70’s, Herzog was most famous for Aguirre, the Wrath of God. More recently, Herzog produced a documentary, Grizzly Man on TimothyTreadwell, who was killed by the grizzly bears that he loved in Alaska. For “Happy People,” Herzog teamed up with Russian director, Nikolay Nikiforovitch Siniaev. It was released in 2013.

Bahkta is a village of 300 people, located on the Yenisei River in Siberia. The Yenisei is one of the three great rivers of Siberia; all flow to the Arctic Ocean. It is the middle one of the three; recently I read Jeffrey Tayler’s excellent account of his trip down the eastern-most of the three, the Lena, in his book River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny. There are no roads to Bahkta. Transportation to the village is solely by the Yenisei and by helicopter. (Google maps provides excellent detailed aerial views of the village!) The taiga, a Russian word now generally accepted in English, is the Siberian forest, which is one and a half times the size of the United States.

“Happy People” is a year in the life of Gennady Soloviev, who earns his livelihood in the traditional manner of a trapper, mainly of sable. He is somewhere between 50 and 60 years old, with an adult son to whom he is teaching traditional methods, including how to make a boat as well as skis from a tree that they cut down. Soloviev claims that he can outski others with store-bought synthetic-material skis. There “concessions” to the modern world are snowmobiles, chain saws and motors for their boats. Hand tools are used for most other work.

Soloviev looks like a dour Slav. Werner Herzog narrates the film, in English, and his intonations seem to capture Soloviev’s spirit. Soloviev says that he was dumped off in the taiga in the 1970’s, with no radio, no winter clothes, a partner who proved to be useless, and with a promise of a stove that was never delivered. He says simply: “I survived.” Herzog commences his year in the spring. May 01, besides its traditional holiday associations in Russia, marks the end of winter, as the ice on the Yenisei begins to break up. May 09 is also still celebrated, and Herzog, the German, poignantly films an old veteran, bedecked with medals, from “the Great Patriot War.” (a/k/a World War II), in which 20 million Russians died. Then there are the maddening clouds of mosquitoes during the summer, as work moves forward to prepare for the autumn trapping season. Birch bark tar is used as a mosquito repellant.

Soloviev traps alone. He has a base cabin, and outlying cabins that have to be stocked for the season. All must be in place before the freeze. His territory is 1500 square kilometers. His son also traps, but in his own territory. He drives his snowmobile down the frozen Yenisei, a 150 km, to be at home for Christmas. His dog must run beside him. He loves his dogs (a trapper has to have them!) but will not spoil them. The last day of December was “mild,” at a minus 33.

Happy people? Throughout the movie, rare is even a smile. Women are in the deep background, their lives unexamined. As Herzog explains though, late in the movie, Soloviev pays no taxes, has no bosses to please, and is free of committee meetings. He is self-reliant, in an extreme world, where there is no margin for error. He is his own man. How many of us can say the same? Unmentioned in the film are the very upscale stores that sell sable coats with $90,000 price tags; so too, unmentioned are the models who “go bare” rather than wear fur. Yet another world.

Herzog was 70 years old when he produced this movie in 2013. His creative powers are certainly undiminished over the past almost half century. The cinematography is brilliant, and includes numerous underwater and aerial shots. And the storyline is just about perfect, with the enormity of the solitude of the taiga playing a key supportive role. 6-stars.
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on May 6, 2017
This film documents the life of a small village of 300 people in the Taiga, an extraordinarily isolated region in the heart of Siberia, an area accessible by helicopter and boat only. The life of the residents is severely restricted by the extreme cold and darkness that are so prevalent much of the year. But they seem to find happiness in their work, mainly as trappers, and the film follows them for a year as they plunge into deep pine forests and iced over rivers and lakes. And, through extensive interviews, you come to realize that these men are not crazy, that they are actually content without the gaudy trappings of modern life - computers, cell phones, etc. The scenery is beautiful and the people kind. My only caveat is the scant attention given to the original inhabitants of this area who have become marginalized by the Russians. They are decided not happy people and for good reason and it would have lent an air of objectivity to this documentary if their lives were followed more closely given how their culture is on the brink of extinction.
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on August 29, 2015
I was completely captivated by this film. It's well narrated and beautifully shot. The Siberian Taiga resembles my own region so much that it looked almost like home. The biggest difference being we may get temperatures of -30 or -40 but they are nighttime temps and rarely do we get more than 15-20 of them in a winter.
The lifestyle portrayed seems ideal and but for my own limited experience hunting, camping and playing in this environment I could be tempted to think of it as a northern Eden. One could not be blamed for the temptation to seek such a lifestyle especially for the portrayal of the simplicity and quietude shown by Herzog and company.
Before you go though, realize that the means to survival is brutally hard work and the requisite skills involved are not acquired in a year or even three. For the young man or woman looking for a more basic and natural lifestyle I would say go North while you are young and test your mettle in the flower of your youth. I wish that I were 18 again, who knows? I may have ended up in the wilds of North America living what at present can only be a dream.
Before you head out though watch this film for inspiration or, if nothing else for fodder for your daydreams.
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HALL OF FAMEon October 28, 2015
I was almost immediately enthralled with this documentary about the life of a trapper in the boreal forest of Siberia in the town of Bakhta (population around 300). I did not expect it to be so interesting, but looking at the credits of director Werner Herzog, 68 in all, I am not so surprised. Apparently I have stumbled upon a great director of documentary films that previously I knew nothing about. Also directing was Dmitry Vasyukov.

What makes this work so well is the clear, concrete detail shown as the trapper (Nikolay Nikiforovitch Siniaev, I believe) goes about what he has to do throughout the entire year in order to survive in the harsh climate. What must be done in spring as he prepares for the melting of the snow (and the mosquitos!) is very different from what must be done in the dead of winter when there is ice on the man’s beard. Interesting enough during both winter and summer they fish the river for pike, breaking ice in winter and throwing nets in the summer, which they either smoke or feed to the dogs.

The dogs! In this film we can see clearly the essential symbiotic relationship between humans and dogs. It is not clear that the trapper would be able to do his work without the help of his dogs. The dog’s ears and its sense of smell augment the man’s knowledge and experience so that together we see them work as a team. When the man makes a mosquito repellent from the bark of a birch tree (I think it was birch) he rubs it on his dogs as well.

The amount of carpentry and other wood working that the trapper has to do, including making craft to navigate the rivers and streams, is surprising. Of course the traps he makes are made mostly of wood. He traps sable for its valuable fur. To do so he has to place traps over a wide area which means he has to maintain various cabins in the woods that he and whoever is working with him can stay overnight since the treks cover many miles of frozen ground. We see him knocking down the snow piled high on the cabins, repairing damage made by bears, etc.

The idea that the people are happy and especially the trapper cannot be argued with even though their lives are hard. The life’s lesson here is that when a man is consumed with work that he has to do, that is necessary for his survival, and it is work that he can do, that he has developed the skills to do, that man is happy. He is happy partly because he is close to nature; in fact he is immersed in nature in a way similar to way hunters and gathers were in Paleolithic times. It can be argued that that world, however challenging, is one that is natural for humans. (Of course there are other natural environments, some very different such as an equatorial jungle demanding a different set of skills.)

After watching this I intend to watch some of Herzog’s other films.

By the way, Klaus Badelt’s score is beautiful and haunting.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can’t Believe I Swallowed the Remote”
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on September 12, 2015
Nice documentary about a people who's lives aren't bothered by modern amenities (or needed). Unbelievably hardy folk who's knowledge and skill in surviving in a world of brutal harshness is captivating. If you're an anti-fur person or anti-hunting then this film is not for you. The trapping methods they use are far different from the fur "farms" that most people are accustomed to. These people run trap-lines that require unbelievably hard work and a thorough knowledge of the animals they hunt. Most of the trappers use a "dead-fall' method that kills the animal immediately and they don't suffer. Even though I am anti-fur I can understand why they trap as it's one of the few ways they can make a living and feed their families. The one cool thing is that these people have no boss and spend their lives making a living by using the natural resources provided them and they are totally in tune to nature and it's fickleness, harshness and beauty. Their dogs are their pride and joy and are unbelievably tough, smart and hardy animals who are part of their families. This is a film that should be experienced just to see how a people have survived in a world without technology, it's like stepping back a hundred years into the past.
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on July 22, 2015
Long ago, I lived for several years in the Maine wilderness, in a very small and primitive log cabin I built myself, far from electricity and telephones and neighbors. Our winters were sometimes severe, -30º F and with deep snow, but not so bad as those in this film, which I watched with interest.

This film should be viewed, especially by younger Americans, to see how life is not the same as their experience and to learn something of other people and other ways. Some reviewers expected to see a plot [in a documentary!], and they found instead a slice of life in a world different from their own.

You should avoid this film only if you have no curiosity about the world and other people and other ways.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 25, 2017
I've seen this Doc twice and have bought the DVD for my Father as a gift. Since seeing this for the first time, i've watched 2 other Werner Herzog documentaries, Encounters at the End of the Earth, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Happy People takes the cake by a long shot, for me. It had my full attention throughout the film. It's captivating, interesting, and makes you feel small because you forget about people living in a place like this. I'd go so far as to say it humbling to watch. These people are probably more content than happy. They know their life and their ways, and don't complain about much. They are what i'd call, a present-time tribe. They do some living off the land, jobs and currency depending upon weather and a good hunting season, and they make most of the supplies that they need.
This film is one worth owning. Herzog picked his best topic to date with this. Excellent Doc. 5 Stars.
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VINE VOICEon April 25, 2013
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!
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on June 7, 2015
I found the film though-provoking. While it can certainly be argued that the featured trappers are "happy people," one wonders at the rest of village life (including the quality of life of the trappers' wives and children, and whether they would also consider themselves happy) as these scenes were largely tangential. Is the happiness of some destined to be always at the expenses of others? Certainly the film did somewhat briefly touch on the fact that the majority of the native Ket people (who would have traditionally filled the roles of trappers and hunters in the villages along that river) did not appear to be happy at all, in fact their lives were largely destroyed by alcoholism and presumably the least lucrative jobs in the village, collecting and chopping up driftwood. So in a very clear way, the happiness of the featured trappers was a direct result of the previous Russian state policies which broke up traditional Ket societies. I knew nothing of the Siberian Taiga before watching this film so it was worth it for the educational aspect alone. I definitely enjoyed watching the trappers building their traditional (and humane!) traps and skis by hand as well as the one Ket man crafting his dugout canoe.
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