Close Up

20 April 2019: Take Two: Stalker / Hard to Be a God


Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979, 163 min
Russian with English subtitles

"Arguably Tarkovsky’s purest articulation of the film as spiritual quest, Stalker develops a radically different attitude to time than the jigsaw of his previous film, Mirror. “I wanted it to be as if the whole film had been made in a single shot,” Tarkovsky wrote. In the event, Stalker is comprised of 142 – each chiseled with the greatest precision. The basic outline of the plot derives from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel Roadside Picnic: ascetic Stalker leads Writer and Professor, both figures of intellectual disenchantment, from a barren wasteland into the lush post-industrial environs of The Zone, a mysterious and forbidden territory believed to actualize desires. Tarkovsky identified with each of the characters but was especially drawn to Stalker as “the best part of myself, and also the part that is the least real.”" – Harvard Film Archive

Hard to be a God
Aleksei German, 2013, 170 min
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 season on Andrei Tarkovsky