The writings of Stanislaw Lem and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are as important to Eastern European Science-Fiction as H.G.Wells and Arthur C Clarke are to the West. Andrei Tarkovsky most famously brought the stories of Lem to the big screen with the seminal Solaris and Stalker. Aleksei German’s adaptation of the Strugatsky’s Hard To Be A God is thematically related to much of the work of Tarkovsky, most notably Stalker and Andrei Rublev. However, it’s an entirely singular piece of film-making. .
A group of scientists land on an alien planet, which is like earth but stuck in the Middle Ages. Their task is to document life there. Observe but not interfere. Anton (Leonid Yarmolnik) is sent to the Kingdom of Arkanar and adopts the guise of a nobleman, Don Rumata, where the tyrannical ruler, Don Reba (Aleksandr Chutko), has set his ‘Greys’ to arrest and kill intellectuals. He travels around secretly shepherding them to safety, living in a castle where half the peasants despise him and the others venerate him like a god.
Hard To Be A God is not an easy film to watch. German uses hyperrealism to bring the action to life. It’s shot beautifully in monochrome, which is a blessing as the screen is almost constantly assailed by a barrage of bodily fluids, blood, guts and mud throughout the epic three hour runtime. On this planet the renaissance never happened; German making many illusions towards Stalinism and fascism. Hard To Be A God if a difficult film, and whilst I wouldn’t exactly call the experience ‘entertaining’. It’s certainly an experience.
Special Edition Contents:
- High Definition (1080p) presentation
- Original Russian soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles
- Exclusive interview with Aleksei German Jr, who completed his father’s film after his death
- Interview with co-screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita, the director’s widow
- 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 hobbled career
- Imagery gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Andrzej Klimowski (to be revealed)
Hard to Be A God is released by Arrow Films and is out now.