Hard to be a God, 2013.
Directed by Aleksei German.
Starring Leonid Yarmolnik, Aleksandr Chutko, Valeriy Boltyshev, Yuriy Ashikhmin, Evgeniy Gerchakov and Yuriy Tsurilo.
A group of scientists is sent to the planet Arkanar to study the local civilization, which is in the medieval phase of its own history…
Humankind and their alien humanoid cousins are ugly. Beastly and grim; the vile creatures totter around in a seemingly endless quest for some sort of meaning in a pointless existence.
Hard to be a God, Aleksei German’s relentlessly tortuous art house epic of sci-fi horror brings these sort of existential problems out in all their dripping and sordid details. It is, to be perfectly blunt, a tough, sometimes excruciating, watch, with almost three hours of relentless repulsiveness showing off the denizens of Arkanar in all their foul glory. And presumably that’s the point – to display that when it comes down to it, even the most gifted and skilled are liable to be brought back down to (a parallel) Earth and the lowest common denominator.
The Russian filmmaker’s last film (it was finished off after his death by his son of the same name) took over 13 years to complete, and the level of detail makes this fact unsurprising. The astounding depth given over to the design of the alien world is astonishing. It also makes it regretful for me to report that this impressive artistic vision is let down by a finished product that could have been edited to at least half of its length.
Perhaps I’m missing the point, but I also found the constant mugging to camera by the cast and extras a constant source of distraction and irritation. At times it reminded me of the worst kinds of filmic self-indulgence, albeit on a formidable and striking stage of wild imagination.
So does a film’s unique artistic vision make the criticism that it is to gruelling to watch and not entertaining enough essentially meaningless? Possibly. Is a film such as this beyond the usual scope of appreciation and judgement? And if so, why?
Based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers – who also provided the source material for Tarkovsky’s Stalker – the film follows Don Rumato (Leonid Yarmolnik) as he observes the sans renaissance alien society. He and his fellow scientists are not supposed to alter events on the planet, merely take in the sights and the smells. They also partake in conversation about greys, red heads and more baffling dialogue which may well have some symbolic impact in the original Russian, but comes out in the translation here as aggressively pretentious meandering.
Near the beginning and end of the film we hear Don Rumato playing a strange alien pipe-like instrument. The coarse painfulness of this elliptical plot device neatly sums up this problematic, inventive, and, ultimately disappointing creation.
Arrow Films have put together their customary high quality of Blu-ray production. The disc includes:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original Russian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Surround Sound
- Optional English subtitles, revised especially for this edition
- Introduction by co-screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita
- Exclusive interview with Aleksei German Jr, who completed his father’s film after his death
- The History of the Arkanar Massacre, an appreciation of the film by Daniel Bird
- The Unknown Genius: Michael Brooke looks at Aleksei German’s creatively dazzling but politically troubled career
- Extensive galleries of film and behind-the-scenes stills
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Andrzej Klimowski
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.