Close Up

18 March 2018: Hard to Be a God


Hard to Be a God
Aleksei German
2013 | 170 min | B/W | Digital
Russian with English subtitles

A work of staggeringly visceral cinema, the epic, phantasmagoric final film of late Russian cinema god Aleksei German imagines a world in which the Renaissance never happened. Adapted from a cult science-fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – who penned the source novel and screenplay for Tarkovsky’s Stalker – the film is set on an alien planet mired in the savagery and squalor of a never-ending Middle Ages. A team of undercover scientists from Earth, including protagonist Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik), is there to observe but not interfere. German’s pet project was decades in gestation; he wrote a first screenplay in 1968, finally shot the film between 2000 and 2006, and was years into post-production when he died in 2013. The film’s immersive, in-the-muck canvas – German stuffs his black-and-white frame with breathtaking levels of detail – owes precious little to space opera and much to the art of Bruegel and Bosch.

Part of our essential cinema programme