One of the awe-inspiring aspects of some of Werner Herzog's documentaries is the length he'll go to do get to the heart of the film's subjects - here he (or the Russian director?) visits a remote part of Siberia: inaccessible by road, the only way to get there is by helicopter or by boat. If you go by boat, you are restricted by the seasonal weather, for during the winter months the river access is frozen.
It's easy to see why being 'sent to Siberia' was used as a punishment by the Russians; here in the village of Bakhatia, 300 people eke out their lives in tremendously hard conditions - we accompany one of the locals, a hunter, as he makes his annual hike into the wilderness to set traps, maintain his huts, feed his dogs - and most importantly, earn money!
His skills in building traditional traps are breathtaking, his hardiness extraordinary - he works with his dog in temperatures of -35 degrees and lower, trapping sable and ermine.
The film takes place over the course of one year - at the start we see him prepare for the journey ahead - he makes his own skis, and there is one craftsman left who knows the traditional method of boat-building: alcohol has had a huge impact here, and many of the inhabitants aren't as happy as the film would suggest. Tellingly, the hunter was given the tools of his trade and moved there by Soviet Russians - the Asian-looking locals look kind of dispossessed.
One niggle is the slightly cheesy Russian-accented translator on the voice-over, but on the whole this humbling film is a record of a lifestyle that has remained the same - with the addition of petrol vehicles - for god know how long; it was a surprise to me that it was filmed recently, as I thought it was from the 1970s when I saw it. It avoids romanticising their tough existence, but keeps an awareness of the love that the hunter has for his life, his family and his most important companion, his dog.
I was amazed to see that the dog runs by the side of the hunter's snowbike for the whole 150 kilometer journey back home without a rest - the film is magical.