March 22 — March 28
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
|Sat & Sun||2:00||5:00||7:00|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
Director Werner Herzog has created some of the most offbeat films in modern cinema, and he works happily (and expertly) in both fictional and documentary formats. Many of his fictional films (like Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God) have a hypnotic yet strangely believable authenticity—while several of his documentaries (like Grizzly Man and Little Dieter Needs to Fly) focus on people whose stories and personalities seem slightly unreal, off-center. Herzog is known for going to extremes. There is no place on earth (including Antarctica of the rain forests of Brazil) that he will not go to find his muse. He employed manual labor—no machines—to haul an actual steamboat up the side of a mountain for Fitzcarraldo. He used a loaded gun to convince actor Klaus Kinski not to leave Aguirre during that notoriously troubled shoot. He ate a shoe—on camera—because he promised documentarian Errol Morris he would if Morris ever finished his first film. Herzog may have mellowed somewhat, but he still has an affinity for people who live on the fringes of society (and sanity). He must’ve been thrilled when he saw director Dmitri Vasyukov’s footage of fur trappers who live and work in the Siberian Taiga—a vast, frozen wilderness larger than the entire United States. Vasyukov already had an amazing film focusing on these hardy, brave souls, isolated from the world, risking their lives each day in unbelievably brutal conditions (no one seeing this film will ever complain about Kansas winters again—or mosquitoes, for that matter). But Herzog elevates the film to the level of sublime masterpiece, not just by editing the footage and adding his own distinctive, quirky narration, but by shaping the material into a celebration of how humans are capable of adapting to any environment. The film’s title is “Happy People,” and it’s not ironic. These Siberian villagers have truly achieved a kind of contentment in their way of life, partly through their respect for nature. These are resilient, dedicated men (and women, who have to maintain their homes, never certain if their husbands are going to make it back when they set out into the forest). Yet they aren’t simpletons or primitive brutes; they have vast knowledge, traditions, talents, and experience that no one else on Earth has—traits of a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation. Herzog loves stories about individuals and groups of people who forge their own paths in the world, choosing to live apart from the ordinary, safe existence that most of us know. He himself has probably ventured (many times) as far into the Heart of Darkness as any filmmaker ever will. Herzog likes heroes who cannot (not just will not) assimilate themselves into the everyday, 9-to-5 world—some of them are mad, some just live in isolation, and some just seem to have been born with an innate feeling of “otherness” which keeps them out of step with the rest of the world. That “path less traveled” can have tragic consequences (see Grizzly Man for proof) but Herzog is fascinated by what drives people to be different. (In his fictional films, he enjoys working with eccentric, often demanding actors, too—not just favorite actor Klaus Kinski but folks like Nicholas Cage and Christian Bale). Herzog brings real intensity to his films, and his fascination sparks our fascination. Moviegoers might walk into Happy People expecting to shake their heads at these villagers and wonder how anyone could be crazy enough to live this kind of life. Gradually, though, Herzog’s admiration sweeps us along, and we find ourselves appreciating them and marveling at their ingenuity, toughness, and dedication (God may have made the farmer—but He must have forged the people of the Taiga out of iron ore). Mesmerizing and unique, this film is first-rate Herzog, exploring corners of the earth—and the limits of human perseverance—that most of us would otherwise only see in the pages of National Geographic.
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