Director: Alexei German
"Hard to Be a God is brutal and visceral, visually and aurally dense, with a loose narrative thread and unheroic protagonist. It is, essentially, cinema reinvented." – Calvert Journal
A legendary and frequently overlooked enfant terrible of Russian filmmaking, Alexei German spent nearly half his life on this incomparable film: inspired by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's 1964 sci-fi novel of the same name, he wrote the screenplay in 1968, shot between 2000 and 2006, and died before post-production was finalised in 2013 by his wife, Svetlana Karmalita, and son Alexei German Jr (whose Paper Soldier screened at MIFF in 2009). A notorious perfectionist, German's uncompromising attention to detail lent the film a semi-mythological status for years. It is finally here and does not disappoint.
Thirty scientists are sent from Earth to a present-day planet stuck in a perpetual medieval existence, to bring it through renaissance. German's camera fixates on one burly inhabitant (or is he?), treated by the locals as a kind of god. Like him, we observe this world, in as close to documentary vérité of the Middle Ages as we're ever likely to get: it's a narratively anarchic cinematic immersion in a violent, grotesque world so palpable you can almost feel it.
At 170 minutes of richly detailed black-and-white historical mimesis, Hard to be a God is a living diorama not for the weak stomached; but for cinephiles seeking a big-screen spectacle of unparalleled visual and aural grandeur, there's nothing that comes close.
"Hard to Be a God is like stepping into a panoramic Bruegel painting and putting your foot right into a shit-stained corpse… in a good way." – Film Comment