"Yaptik-Hasse": The Savage Innocents By Victoria Smirnova

in 7th Perm Flahertiana - International Documentary Film Festival

by Victoria Smirnova Mayzel

A remote island, Yamal. A “Nenet” family, “Yaptik” — nomads in the highest Russian North. An almost extinct nation exists far away from any civilization.

Edgar Bartenev’s Yaptik-Hasse is one of those movies that one calls “poetic”, that nostalgically talks about wild places, archaic tribes liberated from everyday chores and the burden of socialization. The Yaptik women entranced into a happy state of calm bring up children and the Yaptik men slowly drive herds from place to place. Yaptik children throw a lasso and skillfully deal with the hulk of a deer. Sacred sledge transport is the spirit of Yaptik from the south to the north. “While their spirit is alive dogs, deer, road and Nenets will be preserved”.

So we are looking at a very old-fashioned type of the mythological film, more concerned with form than content. The proud and handsome Nenets, who are traditionally silent, are surrounded by pristine nature. Their gestures are simple and slow, their looks reflect the immortal wisdom of a savage who observes white people. It goes without saying that this silence has a spiritual meaning. An indigene observes rituals and a calendar but most importantly he personifies an expression of universal, cosmic values (belonging to nature, life is a product of simple work etc.) that are superior to our foul civilization. The Nenets symbolize an idea of a perfect destiny. The indigene epitomizes a primordial idea of wisdom and virtue, piety and endurance, all in all the qualities that the contemporary European doesn’t possess any more.

For example, we learn that the 100-year-old Hada doesn’t get into the sledge anymore because she pities a deer; little Yarkalna and Yancho are very skillful in manipulating a lasso and that their aunt is helping out her sister to raise the newborns. The lightness with which the movie interprets a myth of an ideal indigene has its roots in the obscurantist idea of a culture being a source of evil. It is no accident that every one of Bartenev’s sequences is carefully devoid of History, and that every scene reminds us of an eco-reserve with pink sunrises and sunsets, and group portraits and landscapes that are also intrinsically photogenic.

In general Yaptik-Hasse is a manifestation of how vain is any ethnographic narrative, which has no intention to be either phenomenological or explanatory. In its refusal of a historical truth, the film paints an indigene as a unique ethnographical wonder.

This genre of essay robs its heroes of any concreteness; their images are produced simply for admiration that is actually rather forced on the audience. And when we hear these comments — “Nenets don’t need somebody else’s deer” or “Nenets are not aware of age and don’t talk about love” — we wonder if the indigene will indeed speak, whether the reverent story of a Utopian paradise might become a political myth and not a moment of innocence.