So often, documentaries about people and communities that live outside the modern social framework present these factions as curiosities, maintaining a knowing distance tinged with judgment. With Happy People, co-directors Dmitry Vasyukov and Werner Herzog travel into the Taiga, a remote region of Siberia (already an isolated place), and settle in with a handful of people living and working based on the old ways — trappers and fishermen, who spend time developing traps and a series of well-tended and stocked outposts, safe from the elements and natural predators.
In the West, this looks like a survivalist report from the fringe, whereas for these people, the film is nothing more than a cultural exploration into a way of life. It acquires a degree of authenticity thanks to the presence of Herzog, both behind the camera and as the narrating voice. Like Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Happy People embraces the minimal approach of quietly walking alongside the subjects who don’t have the time or the need to evaluate life because they are busy just living it. Now open at Esquire Theatre. (NR) Grade: A