To explore cinema, inevitably, you have to take a few risks. You maybe try out movies that you’ve heard about from other people. You work your way through the filmography of a challenging director whose work you have enjoyed. You look for bargains and give yourself a selection of films to choose from. Hard To Be A God is a film that I’d heard about from other people, and so I picked it up some time ago. On this occasion, the risk really didn’t pay off.
The plot concerns an alien planet where humans have lived without the benefit of the renaissance. The whole environment is Medieval, and there are harsh punishments for anyone attempting to be intellectual. One man (Leonid Yarmolnik) takes it upon himself to find and keep safe a doctor (Evgeniy Gerchakov), finding obstacle after obstacle put in his place while he tries to keep safe and sane.
Filmed over a period of years, and finally completed after the death of director Aleksey German, Hard To Be A God is an astonishing achievement, at least in terms of the aesthetics and world-building. Unfortunately, that world is one I don’t want to be stuck in for three hours. Where I was thinking that I might get a film looking at the dangers of power, and a timely reminder that extreme anti-intellectualism is a dangerous thing that holds people back, I ended up instead with something that simply dragged me suffocatingly alongside the company of festering idiots. Which I wouldn’t have resented so much if I could still take other things away from the experience, but I couldn’t. The commentary I was hoping for IS there, somewhat, but it’s buried under uninteresting dialogue, puerile nonsense, mud, and bodily excretions.
My unhappy viewing experience makes it hard to praise anything beyond the visual palette of unrelenting misery. I suppose Yarmolnik is good in his role, as are Gerchakov, Aleksandr Chutko, Yuriy Tsurilo, and others, but they’re forced to be as irritating as possible, most of the time, while delivering dialogue that would be laughably bad if it wasn’t so excruciatingly painful to tolerate. The script was co-written by the director and Svetlana Karmalita, adapted from the novel by Arkadiy Strugatskiy and Boris Strugatskiy, and it’s the heavy weight that keeps the film from rising up, which is fitting when you think of the state of the main characters.
If you see something worthwhile in this film then it will certainly be a fascinating experience for you, and I’m not going to say that there’s nothing here at all. What I will say is that I don’t see what some others do, and I would warn anyone who decides to give this a shot. It’s a hefty investment of your time and energy, which you might end up regretting just as much as I did.
DIRECTOR: ALEKSEY GERMAN
WRITER: ALEKSEY GERMAN, SVETLANA KARMALITA (ADAPTED FROM THE NOVEL BY ARKADIY STRUGATSKIY AND BORIS STRUGATSKIY)
STARS: LEONID YARMOLNIK, ALEKSANDR CHUTKO, YURIY TSURILO, EVGENIY GERCHAKOV
RUNTIME: 177 MINS APPROX