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An embittered law student commits a brutal double murder; a family man takes the fall and is forced into a harsh prison sentence; a mother and her two children wander the countryside looking for some kind of redemption.
A group of scientists are sent to the planet Arkanar to help the local civilization, which is in the Medieval phase of its own history, to find the right path to progress. Their task is a difficult one: they cannot interfere violently and in no case can they kill. The scientist Rumata tries to save the local intellectuals from their punishment and cannot avoid taking a position. As if the question were: what would you do in God's place? Director's statement Aleksei wanted to make this film his entire life. The road was a long one. This is not a film about cruelty, but about love. A love that was there, tangible, alive, and that resisted through the hardest of conditions.Written by
Svetlana Karmalita/Rome Film Festival
Aleski German's Hard to be a God may be the most difficult science fiction film ever made. It is a film that will divide viewers. I was excited to see the film since I had liked the Strugatsky brothers' novel that the film is based upon. In addition, the film had been compared to Andrei Tarkovsky who directed one of my favorite films, Stalker, also based on a novel by Arkaday and Boris Strugatsky (Roadside Picnic). After about a half hour of watching Hard to be a God, I was somewhat less excited.
On a strictly visual level, Hard to be a God is amazing. The film takes place on a planet, similar to Earth, that is going through its middle ages. Aleski German gives the viewer this world unfiltered. The set design is the film's strongest asset. Mud, eternally gray skies, strange armor with demonic horns, and faces, faces like a out of a fresco, these keep one watching. The only two films I can think of by way of comparison are Fellini Satyricon and Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible. Hard to be a God lags behind those two films (Aleski German is not on the level as Federico Fellini or Sergei Eisenstein). Furthermore, German spends so much time on the set design that he neglects the story.
The Strugatsky brothers created a story about power plays and showed how a scientist became a killer. The background was the fictional middle ages. Aleski German places the middle ages in the foreground and shoves the story into the background. True, German keeps much of the Strugatsky's story but downplays them to such a degree that viewers unfamiliar with the novel will have a hard time following it. The royal assassinations which begin the violence happen off screen. The love affair between the protagonist and the peasant girl, which leads to the turning point of the book, is barely in the film. Only one thing interests the director: the world he has created. It is an amazing world. I certainly cannot dismiss a film that looks like this.
I am glad that I struggled through all three hours of Hard to be a God once. However, I think for repeat viewings one needs to have something more than just grand, moving pictures. One needs either deep themes (like in Tarkovsky's Stalker), or an intriguing character, or simply a good story. Set design will only take a film so far.
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