Hard to Be a God (2013) Poster

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A triumph of set design but. . .
jrd_7315 May 2015
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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Two Parts Tarkovsky, One Part Gilliam
bkrauser-81-3110643 June 2016
Based on a novel by Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Hard to Be a God, is an incredibly radical sci-fi film that stretches the meaning of all possible descriptors. This film is not for contemporary popular audiences. This film's audience (if you could say it has one) are the squirrelly, anti-social filmophiles that are too deep down the rabbit hole to be brought back. They're the people who have spent half their lives in darkened rooms and use film as a reference point for life itself. In other words, it a movie just for me.

Knowing Hard to Be a God's production history automatically creates a modicum of goodwill towards the film. Director Aleksey German shot the film over six years and took another seven years to edit it before succumbing to heart failure at the age of 73. Yet even before his last film, his career is littered with long-gestating movies that in some cases were put on hold for years due to Soviet censorship. While the USSR ultimately crumbled 27 years ago, German's insistence in making movies his way is still met with accusations of impenetrability and art cinema navel-gazing.

Hard to Be a God's narrative is not a concern here but for the sake of cogency I'll summarize. Our protagonist Don Rumata (Yarmolnik) is a human, one of many living on another planet stuck in the middle ages. It's never made clear if he's there to help the planet's fledgling culture but what is clear is everyone seems to have a fundamental distrust of intellectuals and a hatred towards science. Perhaps because of this, Rumata has assimilated himself as a noble with God-like powers and thus is feared by all.

These God-like powers by the way include having the ability to swat spears away from his face to the gasping amazement of dim-witted centuries. It appears that Rumata has given up on logic long ago choosing instead to abuse his most loyal subjects in an attempt to make them understands the basic truths about germs, economics and whether or not fish like milk. Yet to designate Rumata a classic anti-hero would be far too simplistic. He, like the rest of the idiots populating the screen is wholly unlikable but in a drastically different way.

Hard to Be a God, to put it succinctly is two parts Andrei Tarkovsky, one part Terry Gilliam and a tiny bit of Idiocracy (2006); though summarizing German's mis en scene through text is completely impossible. His images are so textured, so grotesque and so bizarre that it is unlike anything I have ever seen let alone anything I can describe. World-building seems to be German's biggest strength. We not only see the chaos happening around the characters, we feel the coarse mud, smell the putrid bile and rotting corpses and taste the blood and sinew on the half cooked chicken they consume.

If one were to point to a glaring problem with the film it's that at nearly three hours, the film is simply too long to endure more than once. Scenes of little consequence could have easily been cut to make way for a tighter story and an ending that sticks the landing with devastating aplomb. However, say what you will about the film's leisurely pace, the constant injection of intense medieval grotesqueness supplies the film's audience with enough imagery to fill several nightmares.

While illustrating the problems of a faraway planet, Hard to Be a God is a damning condemnation of humanities struggle with its own ignorance. While certainly not for everyone, the film's warped, layered and visceral vision of medieval life is rivaled only by Marketa Lazarova (1967). Hard to Be a God is a must-watch contemporary classic whose reputation will only grow in the years to come. If you're on its wavelength, I recommend you check it out.
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Engaging and worthwhile, if also very dark and obtuse
I_Ailurophile7 August 2021
From the very beginning we're greeted with scenes both stark and beautiful in the squalor they capture. We just as quickly get exposition that sets up the film, and it is imparted so rapidly and casually in the voiceover narration that if one isn't paying attention, it will be missed entirely. In this same minute span of time we see actors look at the camera, or are treated to obvious and haphazard camerawork, which is either deliberate and inscrutably brilliant, or incidental and horridly amateurish. Given director Aleksei German's career spanning several decades, I'm inclined to think it's more the former than the latter, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How much one is able to engage with 'Hard to be a god' is going to depend on willingness in light of these considerations, yet it also gets even more niche from there.

This much is certain: German approached this project as an art film, with the most substantial emphasis by far on visuals. The picture is entirely in black and white, and was accordingly filmed gradually over the course of several years - presumably with intent not just to bring the vision to fruition, but to realize it as completely as possible. Filming locations, set design and decoration, costume design, makeup, effects, and props are given the greatest of attention, and significant detail goes into everything we see on our screen. At nearly all turns the imagery before us is intense and arresting, with some fine shots and scenes arranged. Pervasive use of fog, mist, or rain effects, or lighting, serves both to provide atmosphere and in some instances to guide scene changes. 'Hard to be a god' is first and foremost a feast for the eyes.

At the same time - to nearly the same extent, this is rather questionable. There is a sense of narrative, but it develops very slowly, with a great air of nonchalance and even indifference to any particular bearing. The blunt, unsubtle camerawork and interaction of characters with the camera, accentuated from the very beginning, are pervasive throughout the film, with no clear purpose except for that it's German's enigmatic intent. There are countless instances of something presented to us on-screen that has no apparent function, meaning, or goal except as a piece of scenery, adding to the setting: lines of dialogue, nudity, acts of cruelty, background characters, even some interactions between dominant characters. The filth, wretchedness, and violence of the scenario is inescapable, impressed upon us in every passing moment - but what's it all for? A somewhat listless treatise on the universality and inevitability of ignorance, brutality, and disorder? 'Hard to be a god' is hardly the only film to examine these ideas. Others have done so with less artistry or eye-catching spectacle - but also with less messiness.

I don't dislike this movie, but I also don't entirely know what to make of it. Clearly it has found favor with many other people, and made an impact; I am glad for them, and congratulate them. Painstaking work went into making this, and it should be celebrated for that reason, and for its artfulness. I just wish there were more definition and structure to 'Hard to be a god' than what we get.

Strongly recommended for persevering viewers who are receptive to material that's difficult to parse. Less recommended for anyone who is squeamish, objects to strong violence, or wants a snappy, easily digestible flick to entertain.
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Great overproduction but for what?
Andres-Camara25 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The three eternal hours of this movie are over. I still do not know what he wants to tell me. More than anything because it does not have a common thread, nor does it go anywhere. Everything is assembled without a reason.

It is an incredible production. A huge stage But I do not know what counts?

We could say that the actors are great, the problem is that apart from seeing completely crazy characters, that if they do it superbly, I do not know what they are performing, so I do not know if it's right or wrong.

He has a very good photograph, if we knew what he wants to tell us. It's very pretty, but I do not know how it helps.

The use of sequence plans tires me, without a reason. The camera goes from one side to another, but I do not know what it is following. I do not know why the actors look at the camera so many times.

It's been a shame, to lose so much time in seeing this
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Hypnotic and Disgusting
possiblyatrout30 April 2019
The narrator explains to us that scientists have traveled to Arkanar, a planet still stuck in the middle ages. The society is regressing and the inhabitants have begun to murder all the intelligentsia, but the scientists are told not to intervene. Sort of like the Prime Directive. After the opening remarks, and aside from a few quips, we move permanently out of the realm of science fiction and into the world that has been created for us as we follow Don Rumata, a scientist disguised as a nobleman, as he wades through this world. And what a world it is. Mud, feces, grease, bile, and blood, are caked on to absolutely everything. Probably one of the greatest works of set design ever. With the roaming camera, it's as if the audience is a part of this diseased world, hopelessly regressing into its vile heart.

Unfortunately, there's a disappointing amount incoherence to the whole narrative. Most scenes would be over before you could piece together what had happened, and then only vaguely at that. The vision, however, of the world that Aleksei German has imagined, is totally unique and inimitable.
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Medieval horrors in outer space
birthdaynoodle26 April 2015
Beautifully shot in black and white, 'Hard to Be a God' presents a spectacular procession of grotesque medieval imagery. For nearly three hours, its characters battle, spit, fart, urinate and grimace, while bird droppings fall from the sky amidst a curtain of foul steam rising from the ground. This visual vocabulary is used insistently, relentlessly, like a mantra, to the point that it nearly becomes hypnotic. The result is, nevertheless, a tasteful, even elegant, and superbly crafted product.

'Hard to Be a God' is inspired by the novel of the same title, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (which I'm not familiar with). Technically speaking, this is a science fiction story, but expect nothing like '2001: Space Odyssey' or 'Star Trek'. If anything, its aesthetics have more in common with Andrei Tarkovsky's 1966 'Andrei Rublev', which is set in 15th century Russia. The plot goes something like this: In the future, a number of earthlings go to planet Arkanar to observe its culture, which is in a similar state to what was once the Earth's Middle Ages. However, they are not allowed to teach the locals any progressive concepts that might help them reach their own Renaissance. At best, they can protect a few, specific Arkanarians who may be instrumental in the advancement of their society. Some of this is explained in an introduction. The rest, one has to more or less guess, based on the sometimes disorienting action and sparse dialog. There is a lot to take in at once, so I believe a second viewing would be helpful.

The surreal parade of people fighting one another and marching through the mud like madmen is so overwhelming, that it is almost comical during some instances. This said, it is grim to see human beings reduced to pointless violence and physiological functions. The visitors from Earth are more scientifically advanced, to the point that they are perceived by the locals as gods; but they despair as they confront the seemingly endless chaos. Thus, the title. Most Arkanarians are primitive and superstitious, while the scientists are false gods, lacking hope or divine inspiration. Not exactly uplifting, but it's a sight to behold...

Director Aleksei German spent many years working on this elaborate production and died before completing it. His wife and son took over that task and finished it in 2013.
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Hard to Watch "Hard to Be a God"
evanston_dad26 August 2015
I almost never post a review of a film here on IMDb unless I've watched the entire thing. Upfront disclaimer about this review of "Hard to Be a God": I did not finish the movie. In fact, I only watched about a third of this movie. So feel free to stop reading now and move one, or to read my review and discount it. I forgive you.

Now, why am I posting a review about a three-hour film of which I only watched about an hour? 1.) Because an hour is all I'm ever going to be able to watch of this film, so it's either post about it now or never; 2.) I have a feeling based on what I saw and what I've read about the film that watching the other two hours wouldn't much change my opinion, as what you see is pretty much what you get for the entire running time; and 3.) what I did see was compelling enough to make me want to share my opinion about it.

"Hard to Be a God" is difficult to describe so I won't even try. It is astounding in its visual detail and its authenticity in recreating the period look of the Middle Ages in all its scatological unpleasantness. Framed against this backdrop is a cacophony of human activity, swarms of people wandering on and off screen, sometimes interacting with the camera, muttering, shouting, barfing, pooping, peeing, spitting, farting, you name it. It's disgusting, intentionally so, and while I won't go so far as to say it's all pointless, it certainly feels that way. Or rather, the discomfort in watching humanity at its grossest isn't worth sticking with the thing long enough to find out what its point might be.

But that said, it did make an indelible impression on me and kept me thinking about it. I'll leave it to people smarter or more patient (or both) than me to watch the whole thing and decide whether or not it deserves the idolatrous praise critics have heaped upon it. But having watched only the bit of it I did, I can say it's certainly SOMETHING.
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An insane visual depression
wickedmikehampton12 January 2020
"What!" is probably all a review needs to shout but I'm going to risk being unnecessary by saying more. Russian director Aleksey German's 'Hard to Be a God' is surreal sci-fi. Imagine if our world were that in the film 'Idiocracy', not because it was our future but because it had always been. Imagine there'd never been a Medieval Renaissance because all the intellectuals were killed, leaving behind only imbeciles struggling in mud and hit. 'Hard to Be a God' is bleak, challenging viewing. There were long periods where I gave up on trying to understand the purpose of the dialogue. My patience paid out as the depressive scenes became visually hypnotic. I could pretend philosophical dividend but that would be out of sync with the clutter of madness. Maybe the moral is that without art life would be infinitely more barbaric. But maybe all that matters is that I spent three hours in a horrible grey place so that I'd better appreciate the real world we live in, warts and all. Although I can't explain it, 'Hard to be God' is the proverbial genius in insanity.
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Fantastic costumes and setups, great casting but fails at delivering the actual story, characters and dialogues
kukident27 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The way this movie is done reminds a bit of the way Stalker was filmed: visually very compelling and interesting shots. The authentic medieval atmosphere and great acting and costumes as well as an AMAZING cast makes this movie visually exciting. The costumes and setups were way above that seen in any Hollywood movies. However, there is a huge drawback to the movie. Beyond its visuals, there is only little left from the narrative. The dialogues don't feel like dialogues and the way this story is told is not very helpful in understanding what is really going on or what the characters feel or think. I didn't feel at any point that the narrative was laid out well. It is very difficult to feel for any character in the film, as there is absolutely no character development or any way to understand the character's motives in depths. At various points it just feels like almost every character broke out of an insane asylum (even the supposedly "smart" or "normal" ones) and you as a viewer are thrown into the middle, looking at them through the camera that guides you around smoothly. Characters are being unnecessarily rough and rude to others for no obvious reason, which is way different from what one would imagine based on the novel. Repeatedly actors are making insane faces into the camera, reinforcing the idea that everyone is just insane. It is not even clear why the main character is acting the way he is, what he is thinking or feeling, it is not even possible to guess. The motives of pretty much every character in the film are really unclear. The viewer is left to guess what is going on but there is often really nothing to base your guess on. The repetitive confrontation of the viewer with feces, dirt, blood and urine, and thrown around food, drinks and objects, gets really boring quite early on in the movie but for some reason keeps continuing throughout the entire movie practically filling most of the film experience, as if it was necessary to repeat these images far beyond the point where the viewer must have already "gotten it".

Where is the thrilling dialogues of the book, where is the story? The point that this planet is a messed up, backwards place and people live in dirt was already apparent in the first minutes, and done really well that way. It would not have been necessary to repeat this to the viewer for 3 more hours, it just makes it boring and monotonous. The philosophic aspects of the story and the entire "feel" for any of the characters got completely lost behind the thick layer of dirt that the movie seems to want to focus on. To me this was very disappointing. The only reason i actually was able to understand what was going on in the film was because I know the novel very well, meaning I could connect the dots whenever things were not directly understandable based on the images and dialogues I doubt all other viewers are capable of that, so most will probably not get the point of the story at all. Also, if I hadn't already known the story i definitely wouldn't have watched the movie to the end and given up early on. Even the death of his slave boy and his girl felt nothing to me. And how could I, considering that the characters were just not delivered well at all.

For the visuals, costumes, cast and overall look I give the movie a 10/10 For the dialogues and story-telling ability I would only give it 2/10. I felt nothing throughout the entire movie. Whereas the book behind the movie almost made me cry like a big man-baby at the end. Overall: 5/10

I have also seen the 1989 film "Hard to be a god" which was done in an entirely different fashion. While that one was more in balance regarding visuals and story-telling ability, it overall felt mundane and the story-changes unnecessary. I still enjoyed it more than this one.
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A strange, plodding exercise in drudgery
toxicpilgrim2 April 2018
I think I get it... I think... Hard to Be a God is like a nightmare of living in a world of idiots. It has a feeling like drowning in mud. Of having a permanent hangover, or a sore back. Where thoughts come into your head but you're too irritated to try to communicate them. The feeling of being completely misunderstood when you're clear as day. It's really a beautiful movie to look at, and disgusting to listen to. Endless depth and texture and movement; like stirring through a stew pot looking for morsels, but finding mostly gristle, and sinew, and slime, but you're going to keep looking anyway because you're hungry.
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It's autumn, there are no mice ...
hou-321 November 2015
...and precious little to enjoy in this movie. Well, it's black and white, subtitled and almost three hours long, there is minimal plot and a good deal of fooling around in the mud. I thought maybe the best way to approach it would be as Monty Python on the Don, but that's only good for ten minutes or so. Likewise the central conceit which is interesting but undeveloped. Ponderous, tedious, pointless, this is the sort of film which gives art-house cinema a bad name. This is currently not long enough to be accepted so it is worth adding that the central dichotomy between a backward Middle Ages and a breakthrough Renaissance does not stand up to scrutiny, in that the Renaissance made minimal impact on most people's lives. That should do it. Meanwhile on the screen it's still raining, both water and tedium.
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3 hours of my life I'll never get back
andrej-groups27 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
OK, so there's some things about the film that set it apart from the main-stream.

1) It's black & white, and given the subject matter (mud, faeces, guts) I was grateful for that.

2) It has some fairly surreal things going, which, as an admirer of both surrealism and dadaism, I appreciate. Random people waving chicken feet at the camera in the foreground to distract the viewer from the main action taking place in the background is kind of disturbingly fascinating.

Another premise that needs to be taken into account in my review is that I have NOT read the Strugatsky's novel. I have, however, seen the 1989 film adaptation "Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein", which I enjoyed despite its 2h duration.

German's work ... unless you have an obsession with mud and/or faeces, and are willing to tolerate filth and gore, and weird dialogue for 3h I recommend to stay clear. Setting the scene for Rumata, and the character development, could have been done in about 25 minutes, and that would have been both more than enough and possibly bearable.

I sat through the film even though people around me started leaving, and others fell asleep.

Just my two cents, maybe I'm just not the right kind of guy for this kind of movie.
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Interesting visuals but nothing else.
BorisMiser24 October 2015
Like many of their novels, Strugatsky's "Hard to be a God" follows the same simple idea. The authors concentrate on a human character and their struggle when their principles and beliefs are tested coming into conflict with surrounding reality often very unusual or just straight alien. The authors are trying to study how this struggle forces the character to grow, make a choice and separate their own core principles from other over-imposed, superficial layers of social conditioning. In other words, a human character is the focus and the foreground. Everything else is just the stage.

This film is a complete opposite. It concentrates on the stage, depicting it with black-and-white graphical cruelty, and leaves everything else behind. I failed to connect with this film at any level. What is so interesting about the stage that I need to watch it for 3 hours? It is just an artificial, contrived object anyway. With all due respect to Alexei German, any attempt to compare this film to Tarkovsky's "Stalker" is plain nonsense.
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They Just Don't Make Them Like This Anymore.
GeorgeRoots10 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"Hard to be a God", is a production with quite an interesting back story. We'll get to that in a second, for now here is all you need to know should you want to endeavour its lengthy 3 hour running time. It is a hypnotising spectacle in terms of visuals and camera techniques, but the glaring absence of a decent plot structure will certainly be the big turn off for most people. Again as I found myself thoroughly absorbed with what I saw, lord knows how many times I came out of that trance when words were spoken, actions were taking place and very little consequences came from those results. It is a science fiction tale of no grand revelations, just brutal depictions of a violent time.

The story comes from famed Sci-Fi authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (Whose 1971 short story "Roadside Picnic", became the basis for Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 classic "Stalker"). Published in 1964, a group of scientists from earth in the future have travelled to a planet also inhabited by humans who have not progressed beyond the Middle Ages. Forbidden to interfere with the particularly bloody progress of the time, all Anton (Our main character) can do is bare witness to the state of horrors around him and hopefully not lose his values and reason in the process. Though the film adaptation is very well acted and every extra grabs your attention, unfortunately there is nothing of a stand out performance and no character has any depth whatsoever.

While some of this remains in the adaptation, it is stretched extremely thin throughout all its 3 hours. I could easily say half the time is spent on the mannerisms of townsfolk, extreme depictions of violence, torture and thank god this film is in black and white because the amount of dirt, feces, organs, blood and unidentifiable sludge's make for one hell of a grizzly depiction. Unfortunately it is to be last for director Aleksei German, who passed in 2013. With the filming starting back in 2000 and embracing a lengthy on-off production, German's Wife and Son had to finish the final cuts a few months before the movies late 2013 premiere date (It has only just had an international release in 2015). I now wish to seek the previous work of the director, as the creative and lengthy shots in this movie are so well crafted. Picture the camera gliding through doorways, broken walls, dungeons, rain and mud soaked landscapes. It is reminiscent of any old Werner Herzog movie, and no way would you ever see any of this from a Hollywood production.

Final Verdict: It is a very hit and miss work and guaranteed to divide people's opinions. I've heard readers of the novel have been less favourable towards it, and others have praised it rightly so as this rare breed, all most lost kind of film-making. I've been eager to see it, and it has satisfied my curiosity more than I thought and set in stone my ambition to read the book (Hopefully the narrative is way more forward). At three hours however, I would preferably recommend Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev" (1966) for a strong depiction of 15th century Russia. Extremely rude of me to suggest another work in my final summary of a movie I'm critiquing, but do see this film as the effort is too jaw dropping to slip away and go unnoticed. 8/10. A stunning final work.
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Total immersion, total lunacy and totally brilliant
Greekguy26 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Aleksey German's epic masterpiece is one of a kind - I have never, ever felt so entirely immersed inside such a complete and yet completely other universe as I did when watching this film. But the fun does not stop there; along with that deepest dive into the fetid and fecal squalor of another planet in the throes of a dark age which will not lift, the film also affords a whole grab-bag of ideas about societal development, about morality and about the role of independent thinking in the progress of intelligence.

The premise of the film is relatively simple, if wonderfully metaphorical: a group of scientists have traveled through space to a planet less socially developed than earth, and they live there as semi-impotent anthropologists, not overtly interfering with the violent and ignorant society with which they now co-exist. They allow the denizens of the planet their own free will in blundering their way forward through a history of their own making.

This is not, strictly speaking, entertainment - it is long, hard work, full of mud, blood and feces, but it is vastly rewarding. Every actor is near-perfect, but Yarmolnik and Tsurilo are sublime; the former, as Don Rumata, presents a man burdened and slightly maddened with unutterable knowledge and invalid responsibility who nevertheless strives to do his best for those around him, while Tsurilo, as Baron Pampa, provides that life-embracing spark of animism that defines humans as those animals capable of feeling enthusiasm over their own existence.

Not everything makes sense here, but then again, neither do our lives. There is chaos in this world of German's, and fear, and a hope for order that is as dangerous as the chaos. But, as his widow reminded us in her opening comments to the screening of this film at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January 2014, this is, above all, a love story. This god loves us; he just can't do much about it. This film is beautiful, utterly engrossing, and unmissable.
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The timeless film.
mariotomchev11 May 2015
I've never written a review here, even though I'm more than dozen years a user. And most likely will not write one ever again. But forgive me for boring you with the personal introduction, it's just coming out to show you how much for me is this piece of filmmaking worth writing at least a few words. And I can only hope it will be for someone else too.

The plot is quite clear: a man out of time. In every possible sense. A team of experts, including explorer/militant/scientist/philosopher/royalty? called Don Rumata, is set on a distant planet whose civilization's grey Purgatory of reality is similar to Earth's grim and barbaric Middle Ages. His mission: to protect the very few progressive minds he can get. Thing is, he can't show his advantages and in no case can he interfere killing, therefore allowing all natural history course of this parallel society. Like a spectator who can only touch on the surface and hurt inside, bright and impotent. It's not easy being neo-God.

This simple yet great story is what makes the book written in the '60s by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky ("Roadside Picnic" which became "Stalker") a great one too. But what takes all this to a new-wave level of greatness is Aleksei German's lifelong desire to film it and his magnum final result of a vision where you are almost the main protagonist, you breathe and think and feel and will probably bleed right beside him. A result which German died just before seeing officially finished and which is now in the form of three hours that took fifteen years in the making.

Three Russian hours from 21st century of black-and-white world of past, future, fiction, reality, chaos, mud, blood, vom*t, p*ss and sh*t and yet there is love and even music to be found in the filth of German's Inferno. Where I saw it at the Sofia International Film Festival, I witnessed walkouts, boos, applauses, tears of despair or joy. But what I experienced thoroughly was me sitting on the floor in the overcrowded theater in complete petrification, silent, a little confused and in awe. Confused by how much German added to the story, the ambiguity, the layers of detail and questions in depth he raised. And in awe of how was this shot, structurally and technically speaking. Even for a film student like me it raised only questions. To not spoil anything, I feel I should only say you have to watch it completely open-minded and forget about the book (which still must be read beforehand) or visual feasts such as, for example, "Birdman" and all the overpraising it got. Don't get me wrong about Chivo Lubezki who I adore, but this is a cinematic achievement way ahead even of its prolific time. Because by the end of all the daze and decay, you are completely unaware whether it's Don Rumata, you or the world around that is transformed. But into what? It's up to you to find. Just drain yo' self:)

It was released more than a year ago at festivals, theatrically and on the internet, but is yet due to receive the grand recognition it deserves. My take is this can happen in five, fifteen, a hundred years from now or maybe never: something I can not and will not believe. No one can now for sure, but anyone could easily sense that as far as narrative cinema goes, HARD TO BE A GOD is most definitely the timeless film of our present. You can thank the Germans (father and son) or the Strugatsky brothers; I choose to thank humanity.
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A great new work
rettercritical18 March 2015
Yesterday two people cycled to our video store (Film Buff Central, Port Adelaide, Australia). They were from Venezuela and slightly misread our social media. We have been championing the film Hard To Be God in our articles relating to cinema distribution.

The couple had come to actually rent the film and I had to disappoint and let them know it hasn't been released on DVD yet. They cycled all the way from North Adelaide to Port Adelaide on the off chance we may have it.

I let them know that we are just as excited in seeing Hard To Be God and that one of our founding members Chris Luscri had traveled interstate to the Melbourne Film Festival almost exclusively to see it.

Chris came back from MIFF claiming it was the scifi film of the decade, which made me extra curious to see it. Well last night I was given an online copy and watched it immediately.

Masterpiece. You will not enter a world like this anywhere else. Hard To Be A God is a monochrome zone of smoke, fog, rain, mud, spit and desperation unlike any previous film excursion. A camera's wide angle constantly floats, amongst this atmosphere and rarely cutting as it glides around like a character trailing these damp feudal figures. Peasants don't just walk past; they stop and look at you as the audience is pulled in as a participant. I cannot wait to see it again and hopefully on the big screen.

Cinema needs this film. The art form needs something to wipe the slate clean. Medieval fantasy has become art-directed gloss with unnatural blue tones and well-kept hair. Where is the dysentery? Where is the gangrene? Hard To Be A God renders every Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit film as obsolete. Don't expect this to be at your next comic or cosplay convention unless the gamers grow up. This hard fantasy and sci-fi isn't for the milkshake slurpers.

Hard To Be A God will make you feel something. Half an hour later I went to the bathroom and observed an insect's entire journey crawling across the tiles. My own mortality depicted as six legs escaping from the light. This was the kind of meditative state the film put me in. We need Hard To Be A God shown in all its epic glory on the big screen and I encourage you to spread the word, express your anticipation and visit in droves when it gets here.

Mike Retter
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The most liquids and faces I have ever seen on a film
jsteele-0399214 December 2017
This film had by far the greatest amount of liquids and combinations of liquids in the history of film. Blood combined with mud, blood with snot, snot with mud, vomit and spit, vomit and mud, blood and liquified rotting corpses, piss and pion, blood and feces all combine into a true elegy of combines liquids.

Additionally, it features an extraordinary amount of faces. Extras constantly pass in front of the camera, and at least 1000 people get a close up, all with different, often disturbing faces, specifically ordered to perform as disgustingly as possibly, often projecting the aforementioned liquids, with a preference to snot. This manages to give an authentic feel to the medieval atmosphere of the film, with all the disturbing, disgusting and hard to watch elements completely intact.

Unfortunately, the story is very hard to follow, since the random dialogue by extras, while cementing Hard to be a God as possibly the most realistic film about the Middle Ages ever, also distract the viewer from the actual story. Also, the sci-fi premise is thin and doesnt affect the story too much, while it does involve some interesting nihilistic philosophic themes.

All in all, this film is not for you if you are a fan of sci-fi, color and interesting storytelling. However, it is really a technical marvel, with spectacular photography, costumes and set pieces, which manages to include the largest number of liquids and faces ever. If you are a face, liquid, or generally decadence enthusiast, you should watch this film as soon as possible.
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Quite possibly the worst movie ever made
broggoethe8 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
OK, I have finally found it! After watching hundreds and hundreds of movies over the past few years, I am pretty sure I have just seen the worst movie ever made in the history of man. God bless the reviewers that saw something socially redeemable in this film, I know everybody is different but it was just terrible, OMG. Black and white, mud everywhere, rain, spitting, why were they looking into the camera? Seriously, this movie was BAD!!!! Plus, it was super long! If you didn't read about the plot on some web site there is NO WAY you would know what it was about...NO WAY! Believe me, you will thank me for checking spoiler alert, that way you wont waste your time. Think of the worst movie you have ever seen, this movie makes your worst movie look like Ben Hur.
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This isn't Earth. It's another planet.
volod3 March 2014
The movie starts with the quotation above, and that's probably worth remembering throughout its lengthy 3 hours run. Despite the description, 'imagine the Dark Ages where no Renaissance has come' from Strugatsky book which was the inspiration for the movie, it's not quite so. IT IS another planet. Dark Ages, Middle Ages were portrayed times and again, and when you see castles, mud, horseshit - it's all clear and understandable.

Not here. For at least a third of the film I had trouble to grasp what's going on, be it on first plan or backstage... it was captivating, with truly amazing, remarkable stage set, but... alien, of sorts. Hard to get what's inside these people heads, what are they doing. It forces you to put the tiny little grey cells to work - and it's great.

The picture is top-notch. It strangely reminded of graphic novels like Sin City and 300 - you can print the frame out and use it as a wallpaper. Black and white in this case, sure, but deep and artistic nonetheless.

Stunning performance from Leonid Yarmolnik as Rumata, his best role hands down in his long career. He's known mostly as a comedy actor, but here shines as a dramatic, almost tragic figure.

Great movie, and NOT an art house gem. Having said all that, I would NOT recommend it to any person: you have to decide to go through the catharsis by yourself, and that's the only way you'll get through it.
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Another rare bad Russian SF film
sanmentolabs19 June 2021
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS Scientists/astronauts capable of intersellar travel land on a planet where people live in medieval squalor.

They're not supposed to mess with the inhabitants, so what do they do? Totally mess with the inhabitants.

They also just decide to live in squalor for the rest of their lives with these people? What the hell?

A cringeworthy, completely unrealistic take on interplanetary travel and exploration.
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Tasty as a mud pie
CineasteWest4 February 2016
Take the worst aspects of the dark ages and ostensibly reset all the phlegm, muck, and mud (I'm sorry, but even the middle ages must have had a few sunny days) to an "alien" world in the name of a soggy "Heart of Darkness" metaphor, and the result is the unwatchable "Hard to be a God." Nearly plot less and as pleasant to watch as a boil lancing, this film which nearly wasn't made, shouldn't have been. If watching actors (and I use the term loosely, the director seems to have cast with a sideshow mentality) snort feces and propel snot is your ideal way to spend three hours, feast away from the trough. You be richly rewarded in that direction. "Hard to be a God" is in the worst tradition the grotesqueries of the muck-and-mire school of eastern European art films. These directors and filmmaker bludgeon you with their hyped- up "realism," sparing no expense or lack of taste, to portray the lowly ground man has trod over the ages. Always set-decorated, costumed, and performed so verily over-the-top, these films wind up feeling so overtly phony in their "truth," they like marionette shows in an outhouse. Yes, they frequently achieve authentic repulsiveness -- and but that is a questionable achievement from the standpoint of a viewers force to chug the slime. Setting an excruciatingly high watermark for ugliness in the name of enlightening us to the beast within, "Hard to be God" achieves half it's goal: it's a truly repulsive film. There's none of the poetry or metaphor of even a patience-tester like "Salo" and the only thing cooked up from its cauldrons of phlegm and boot-scrapings of dung is an empty, and tasteless, serving of mud pie.
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Absolutely brutal and innovative Masterpiece! 10/10
arthur-mardeev26 February 2014
I waited for that movie since I watched "Khrustalev, my car!" 6 years ago. I remember being so impressed by intensity of every scene and surrealistic weirdness. I loved it! It was like Tarkovsky + Lynch + Kubrick + Jodorowski in many ways, but nonetheless so special, that none of these comparisons actually worked. And so, I waited. I read the book "Hard to be a god" by Strugatsky Brothers and I thought I am prepared and ready for the next and the biggest work of Alexey German. But what I saw on a premiere screening in Moscow last December was like a revelation, it has not only surpassed my expectations, it crushed me. In just 3 hours there was a new World, which grew and established in my mind, a new vision of cinema, a new image of Middle-ages that simply didn't exist. This is more than a movie, like many reviews claim, and I cannot agree more on that. I think German invented a new cinema language, in which most of the classic and well-established techniques are so thought-over, that they feel like serving a whole other purpose. Even simple scenes are shot and shown in a very difficult manner by camera moves, by vast number of layers of characters, objects etc. and very documentary-like sound effects. It's a new World for a viewer, shown in such intense detail and density, that it could be overwhelming; you might feel overloaded with visual and contextual information. You simply never saw anything like that! And it's hard to see! German achieved a tremendous goal here - he made the whole movie feel like it was shot in the actual Middle-ages of 8th century at most, and then this footage was brought to us and edited to a movie. You feel yourself in a full-dimensional World, where every object is placed and every character acts so masterfully, that it creates this feeling of the World actually living there behind the camera, behind that castle and that street. Every scene is putting you right there, constantly drawing you further in its realm. Characters look straight into the camera, like they are communicating with you. Being that the main character has a camera on his forehead, that is transmitting back to Earth, it makes you feel that you are actually watching that footage. In some ways, all this makes the movie absolutely furious in tempo and fierce towards the viewer, as it never tries to explain itself. It doesn't possess these usual genre traits, where characters are "marked" and are at "the brighter part of the frame", where you know what to look at and what is important right now. In Hard to be a God you are constantly distracted from the important, by a sudden person appearing at the front, doing some medieval sh**, or a part of an object blocking the view, or by someone speaking at the same time. "It's not the Earth, it's another planet. Just like the Earth, but 800 years ago", says the narrator at the beginning. You see people, from such a distant past, that you cannot imagine people like that! They are familiar with hanged people at the central square, they are not even aware of a term "privacy", they sh** right on the street, they kill just because someone knows how to read... Dead bodies, as***, snots and primitive, wild way of acting - all is creating a distance between you and them. But why showing all that? Isn't it too much, some may think? From my point of view, German just knew that it is the truth. Yes, it's dirty and gory, and definitely not some glossy, noble vision of Medieval, but that's how it was back in time, I believe. He told in many interviews, that he was always after truth in his movies and I must say - I never felt Middle-ages so real. Another definite achievement of this movie is that even with all these horrors, multi-layered thoughts and visions, we are given with a fantastic main character! Don Rumata that is believed to be a God by locals. He is from our times, from Earth. A scientist, who lives there, studies them, tries to guide their civilization towards the Renaissance. Yet, he cannot use force, or his knowledge on them. He can only observe. Director told that he wanted him to be your "bro", "friend" in this World, and I think it's something like that. He is the only normal person in the whole movie! He serves the role of a conductor between you and them. His reactions are humanely, and behavior is understandable, bringing emotions. Even though, sometimes he acts somewhat bizarre and insane, his jokes on these people are funny, but done in such circumstances that might draw some eyebrows up) People don't make fun of things like shown in the movie, yet Don Rumata is in special situation here. He is constructed in such a way, that he feels like he is a God, wandering, watching that World slowly evolve. He has a lot of gold, many slaves and he plays Jazz in the morning. He is trying to make these people better, but once current government is overthrown by the Religious Order, he cannot stay aside. In the end, movie takes you on a Monumental Journey through the World that is just slowly going through its path of the evolution. Hard to be a god, presents a huge challenge for a viewer to experience it yet stays crystal-clear in its message. It's a movie about emotions, that awake desperation, but at the same time give you the spark for determined actions, that complete the full revolution of an era, after which it starts again. By the end of the film, when the whole structure of it collapsed in my mind to the point of understanding the present, I knew that this movie is never to be forgotten. Masterpiece!
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Going Out On Top
zacknabo30 September 2016
Blood, sweat, s**t, p**s and muck, it could be argued, are five of the main characters in Aleksey German Sr.'s final ultra-visceral film; a passion project that nearly spanned a decade, with editing ending after his death. Hard to Be a God is a kaleidoscope sci-fi adapted from the novel of the same name. Penned by Arkadiy and Boris Strugatskiy who's other notable work, Stalker, was brought to film in 1979 by Russian film legend Andrei Tarkovsky. German's masterpiece is as visceral and striking as The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road, with every bit of the technical achievement. Imagine Russian Ark met up with Andrei Rublev tripping on acid (an overdose of acid) having some peach schnapps with a long, ominous tracking shot from a Bela Tarr film, and all this is sprinkled with every bit the humor and grotesqueness of the "Bring out your dead" scene from Monty Python's The Holy Grail…now you are at least in the ballpark of the wild ride that is Hard to Be a God.

The film's premise is based around the idea that a group of scientists are sent to the planet Arkanar to assist civilization—a Medieval civilization—find it's right path to progress (so certain press clippings say). But there are rules: they cannot interfere directly, violently and in no case kill the people of Arkanar, which is a "rule" that our protagonists takes lightly. Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik) is the physically imposing, gruff scientist who tries to save, or at the very least find local intellectuals or any beings with a semblance of advanced intellect…a tall task. Rumata is awakened and the film is off as if it was shot from a cannon and doesn't stop for nearly three hours, but in three hours there is no chance of your attention waning. The crisp black and white photography is beautiful and precisely juxtaposes the disgust and backwards horror of the harsh landscape of Arkanar. Rumata, whose roll is akin to "The Stranger" (The Marquis de Custine) in Sokurov's kinetic guide of The Winter Palace in Russian Ark. From start to finish faces crowd every inch of the frame (no inch wasted), all made to look like one long tracking shot. The medieval, troglodyte acting folk jump from every angle, with a whirling pan ever so often to further escalate the intentionally destabilizing experience of a world we cannot understand. Hell, the people of Arkanar cannot understand. The film is difficult to say the least; the plot isn't exactly clear and the texture of the film is grimy. Extreme foreground is used to perfection by German, as the world is in the viewer's face. Everything this nasty world has to offer: blood, s**t, p**s, mud, etc. splatters onto the lens, bringing the audience wholly into the arcane, archaic world of this Russian fever dream. So if it is coherent narrative you want, look elsewhere, because this is not German's desire. In this world that closely resembles a superstitious Earth dug deep in the mire of the Middle Ages, German attempts and accomplishes is goal of presenting a world in all of it's squalor, chaos and unashamed violence. In all of this chaos German manages to keep it reigned in as it trudges along in a nearly constant rain and barrage of snot-rockets with a kind of POV shot that always manages to wrangle in the visual sense of the film back to stability (stability for this film).

The expressionist, carnivalesque, cavalcade of a film was an amazing surprise for me. While it is a technical feast for the eyes and divisive in how it gets the adrenaline pumping, the film does manage to stimulate the mind…even as our scientific, man of intellect, Rumata, slowly diminishes from drink further into an animalistic state. There are many points of interest and value that the film presents: What is the true nature of God? "HTBAG" also examines the importance of technological advances and the priceless value of intellectual endeavors and how hard these motivations are to accomplish in the muck and mire of adversity. The parallels could be drawn to Soviet Russia in the 20th century or even modern Russia under Putin…but I will leave that for someone more knowledgeable to tackle. Whichever way you choose to slice it, man or celestial, it is hard to be god.
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Mud. Lots of mud...
Mklangelo8 October 2016
Scientists are sent to an earth like planet where they discover a medieval society which did not have the benefit of a Renaissance and certainly no Enlightenment. The Intelligentsia of this society are hunted down and executed. Some flee to a safer part of their world in hopes of surviving. Ignorance and filth are the lot of these miserable people.

I must admit the premise of this movie grabbed me. Sci-Fi with social implications? Are you kidding? Deal me in!

After the first 30 minutes I turned it off. A movie has 30 minutes to bring me in and hold me. That's it.

Now you have to remember this movie is made by Russian director Alexei German. He's highly acclaimed by sophisticated, artsy types. Apparently this film took a decade to complete and bring to the screen.

But the similarities between this film and most Russian Literature were too striking for me.

I've heard Russian Literature described thus: 5 people stand around talking for three hours and then someone's aunt dies. Be still my beating heart.

In this film, all the characters walk around covered in mud and human feces. They drown in feces and smear it on their faces while smiling.

There is one particularly captivating scene where the local duke wakes up in his squalid castle, picks a cockroach out of a glass of wine from the night before, flicks the roach onto the ground and spits into the wine. But wait. That's not all. The tension builds as he walks around followed by servants who swat bugs for him while playing some sort of clarinet for about 5 minutes. The same 4 notes with very slight variation. 5 minutes. At this point my heart nearly burst from my heaving chest.

I must though give credit where credit is due. The Director and Producers have succeeded in creating an utterly convincing world here. It completely breaks down the 4th wall. You feel as if you're there and it's thoroughly depressing as a result. Russians are a different sort of people I guess. I suppose that's what the artsy types are conveying when they gush over this film. I will offer praise on that but it must be said that filming in black and white does half of that job for you. Like Paul Simon said, "Everything looks worse in black and white."

But apparently I'm not sophisticated enough to watch people roll around in mud and their own fecal matter for 3 hours. Yes. It's a 3 hour movie.
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