Hard to be a God- You've never seen anything like it!
Posted 4 August 2015 about Hard to be a God.
"You've never seen anything like it!" is somewhat overused in regard
to cinema nowadays. Spectacular CGI visuals abound with every new Hollywood blockbuster
looking to outdo its predecessor with spectacular special effects. But, isn't
it all getting a bit boring? What about a film whose imagery, although stunning
and truly epic in its scope, uses very few digital effects but instead creates
an absolutely convincing representation of life on an alien planet by actually building
sets, designing completely convincing costumes and having the actors
practically live in them for several years whilst principal photography takes
place? Well here it is, Russian director Alexei German's final film,Hard
To Be A God; an incredible twelve years in the making during which
time its creator passing away before post-production was finished and the film
finally completed by his son, Alexei German Jr.
The film, an
adaptation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's science fiction novel of the same
name, is set on the distant planet of Arkanar where a group of scientists from
earth have been sent to observe the society that exists there. The planet is in
a state similar to earth in medieval times but due to superstition and fear its
development has stalled with literacy, medicine and culture punishable by
torture and death. One of the scientists, Don Rumata, begins to despair of the
violence and degradation that surrounds him and it is increasingly difficult
for him to obey the strict rule not to interfere with the development of
Arkanar's society. He therefore finds himself on a fateful course that will
lead to an inevitable reckoning with the instigator of the repressive inquisition,
the all-powerful Don Reba.
As a piece
of science fiction the film is completely unique. There are only the merest
hints and reminders that we are not actually on earth in the Dark Ages; we hear
(or think we hear) snatches of recognisable tunes being whistled by the
scientists; Rumata plays bebop jazz on a clarinet-like wind instrument and,
just once, we glimpse a motorised armoured vehicle trundling through the mud. The
film is an uncompromising and completely immersive experience, often shot in extreme
close-up with objects constantly obscuring the frame; the production design is
so authentic and tactile that you feel you can almost smell the excrement,
urine and blood that the film's characters wallow in. These cluttered and claustrophobic
scenes are then suddenly interspersed with truly horrific vistas of mass
executions and torture that are worthy of Brueghel in their detailing of human
therefore, not a film for the faint-hearted. However, if you caught any of last
year's Red Planets season of Soviet science fiction you will be
enthralled by this astonishing piece of filmmaking which will, in time, be seen
as a landmark in the history of cinema. Alexei German made only six films in a
career that spanned almost forty years and little of his work has been seen in
the west outside of festival screenings; it is to be hoped that, with the
release of Hard To Be A God, we might now get the opportunity to see
more of his work.
Oh and you
will have never seen anything like it…ever.