Constructing happiness in Siberia: Happy People and the ideological potential of the provinces

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This article examines the representation of Bakhta, a Siberian village, in Dmitrii Vasiukov’s documentary mini-series Happy People (2007) and draws parallels with Vasiukov and Werner Herzog’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010) and Mikhail Tarkovskii’s Frozen Time (2014). The characters in these films undergo moral purification in the Siberian taiga, having purged themselves of habits and patterns of thinking associated with city life. The space of Bakhta comes to symbolize simplicity and authenticity associated with provincial life. The article investigates the ambivalence of political meanings attached to Bakhta as the representative space of the Siberian region, as well as a generic provincial space. Bakhta becomes the setting for the constructed image of a heroic Russian trapper, represented as a valiant but humble guardian of Siberian traditions and brave settler of Siberia’s wild expanses. The article explores the connections between the images created in these documentaries and national ideology in contemporary Russia. In Happy People, the rhetoric of authenticity, masculinity and conquest finds resonance with new ideas of Russianness, while relegating the native Ket populations of the Yenisei region to the periphery.

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