Hard To Be A God (18)

Directed by Aleksei German
Picturehouse, Liverpool
22nd December 2015

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This extraordinary film took thirteen years to create, requiring a seven-year shoot and and an incredible six-year edit. It was not finished when director Aleksei German died in 2013, and it required the expertise of his wife and son (also a film director) to complete the sound mix.

It reminded me very much of the work of another Russian film-maker, Andrei Tarkovsky, who created epics such as Stalker, Nostalgia and Solaris.

Hard To Be a God is centred upon a scientist, Don Rumato (Leonid Yarmolnik), who heads a team sent to live on a planet similar to earth and inhabited by human-like people. The major difference between Earth and this planet is that the latter had never experienced a Renaissance. You are never given any idea of how he and his companions arrived there.

Rumato is a demi-god nobleman, who constantly wanders through what looks like a version of Dante's Inferno. There are body fluids aplenty: people spit and vomit and ooze blood. Corpses lie rotting in what looks like acres of human and animal excrement.

This vile terrain is captured on monochrome film, which adds to the dark and forbidding aspect of this 170 minute epic.

There is never a moment which you should miss or not pay complete attention to, such are the dense textures conjured up.

It appears to be set in medieval times but there are often instances of modern day equipment and other references to contemporary times.

It could be construed as a metaphor for the way we humans have put our planet on the edge of destruction with endless wars raging - I read last week that 200 million kalashnikov rifles have been manufactured in the past sixty years or so - and humankind's greed and selfishness bringing us to the precipice of climate destruction.

Comic touches are produced intermittently when various characters wander past the camera and then stare at the lens, as if they are asking us (the viewer), what are you doing here?!

The framing of the direction is so tight that it greatly adds to the almost disconcerting claustrophobic effect that I had never experienced before when watching a film on the big screen.

I could watch Hard To Be A God time and again and never tire of viewing it.

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