Monday, 21 December 2015


Hard to Be a God is extreme cinema, but not in the way you may think. Running just shy of three hours, we are witness to copious amounts of death, mud and shit, and you will leave maybe no more the wiser to what you have experienced, as the plot is nearly impenetrable. Twelve years in the making, Aleksei German died before the completion of this Boris and Arkady Strugatsky adaptation, but what he has left us is an incredible, crazy film, and if you don't attempt to embrace this singular method of story telling, then you'll be missing out on one of 2015's most unique films.

Taking place on the planet of Arkana, where the renaissance never happened, it is up to a group of scientists sent there to gently nudge into place an intellectual revolution and save the thinkers from gruesome deaths. Where many other directors may choose to place the focus on the superiority of the scientists, German instead brings us to the level of the Arkana commoners, who are more than happy to punish every "smart-arse" they see. The primary player in this film is Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik), one of the scientists from Earth who has gone native, and who wins favour amongst the commoners by passing himself off as the bastard son of a god.

The films greatest strength can also be seen as this films greatest flaw; German has gone for realism, in almost every aspect of this film. This is a film with barely any exposition, and you are left to pick up the story from clues hidden amongst the gibberish these characters speak. These are people that do not seek enjoyment in conversation, but in hangings and plunging enemies into excrement. I'll be honest, for a long while I struggled to make any sense of this film. I knew the plot, but I just couldn't understand what was going on. But it suddenly hits you: this is what it would be like. This is a crazy place where crazy things are happening, and like Don Rumata, you are forced to go along with these simpletons, these people that are aggressively protective of their ignorance, who indulge in suspicion and myths. And when that moment comes, Hard to Be a God suddenly becomes a glorious cacophony of Hironymous Bosch-like madness.

Visually, this film is stunning, and every glisten of light on the mud and sticky rain is framed and lit perfectly by Vladimir Ilin and Yuriy Klimenko. It really is one of the best looking films I have seen all year. Even the audio is realistic, adding perfectly to the immersive experience of this film.

This is not an easy film to watch. I struggled in parts, having to stop it an go back to it later. A segment on the blu-ray by Daniel Bird, explaining more about the film, also greatly enhances the plot for someone who hasn't read the novel. However, the more I watched it, the more I appreciated it, and the more I understood the position and actions of the scientists, especially Don Rumata. This is also an incredibly fascinating take on sci-fi, revelling in the chaos of this reality that is very familiar to us humans, but also terrifying in the way of how stilted a society can become when it resents progress.

If you allow yourself to give into the madness, then you will find a truly remarkable piece of film making in Hard to Be a God.



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