Bakhta, a village in the geographic center of the Siberian taiga, has a population of 300. It’s accessible only by helicopter or, during those months when the Yenisei River isn’t frozen, by boat. If it weren’t for the occasional sight of one of those helicopters or a snowmobile, Bakhta could be in the 19th century or earlier. It’s almost as far away in time as it is in space. How could Werner Herzog, foremost film master of the brute exotic, resist? If the place didn’t exist, he’d have had to invent it.
Since it does exist, he directed this documentary, with Dmitry Vasyukov. “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” (“taiga” is the ecological term for northern evergreen forests) focuses on several fur trappers. “Happy” isn’t meant ironically. Herzog, who narrates, clearly loves, and envies, the trappers’ elemental existence and connection to nature. “Continuing his rounds on skis,” Herzog says of one of his subjects, “he resembles prehistoric man from a distant ice age.” He doesn’t really, but Herzog certainly enjoys thinking he does — and the way he says it, it almost sounds plausible.