HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA (Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner Herzog). 94 minutes. Opens Friday (April 13). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
Call it Werner Herzog's answer to Nanook Of The North.
In Happy People: A Year In The Taiga, the guy with a fixation on grizzly men makes co-director Dmitry Vasyukov's four-hour television documentary into a 90-minute sojourn in the Siberian wilderness.
Fur trappers like 60-year-old Gennady spend a great deal of time digging through the kind of snow that would make us call in the army in order to make skis, canoes and complex animal traps. Vasyukov captures the processes in painstaking detail, which may require patience to watch, but it's clearly nothing compared to what the subjects endure.
Living off the land, the trappers remain isolated in remote locations that can only be reached by helicopter (or by boat for about two months of the year). Gennady's only relationships are with his dogs, and hearing him describe them warms your heart despite the miserable cold on screen.
Herzog's admiration for the men and their adaptation to their harsh surroundings comes through in his usual philosophical narration. However, instead of subtitles, the film employs laughable English-language voice-overs that verge on condescending - more like Sesame Street than National Geographic.