If you’re a fan of snowy mountain panoramas, frosty bearded men and the treacherous Siberian wilderness, then you need to see “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga,” now showing at the Hippodrome.
Werner Herzog’s acclaimed documentary plucks the audience from their cushy movie theater chairs and plops them right down in Bakhtia, a 300-person town on the Yenisei River. Once accessible only by helicopter and boat, viewers now have an all-access pass to Bakhtia through the grace of Herzog’s camera lens.
The film follows a handful of trappers through the course of a year and contrasts their simple lifestyles with the complex ones most of the film’s audience members are undoubtedly living.
Man becomes one with nature, and each trapper relies on himself and his dog to stay alive. One trapper tearfully shares how his dog, Smoky, saved him from a bear attack and discusses the differences between a good dog and a great one. Though my 11-year-old dachshund can barely roll over, I like to believe he’d hold his own.
Aside from yearning for a deeper bond with Mother Earth, you’ll learn all kinds of helpful facts for your next camping trip in the Arctic. From how to make your own wooden skis with a boiling pot of water to the merits of a good crunchy snowfall in hunting season (good for bears, bad for moose), no Siberian winter will catch you off guard.
In one scarring scene, you even witness how to protect yourself from the clouds of mosquitoes that plague villagers in the warm seasons — just take some tar from a nearby Birch tree and apply generously. As one Bakhtia man eloquently put it while dousing a nearby child in the smelly stuff, “I’ll cover his face with tar, and it’ll be OK.”
The optimistic attitude this man possesses is shared by most of the Bakhtia people and makes you wonder if selling all your possessions and moving into the wilderness is the true answer to happiness. And then you remember “Into the Wild,” and you decide to leave the big game to the experts.