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DVD: Hard to Be a God | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Hard to Be a God

DVD: Hard to Be a God

The late Soviet and Russian master Alexei German finds diamonds in the muck

The filth and the fury: Vladimir Ilin and Yury Klimenko photographed 'Hard to Be a God'Sever Studio/Lenfilm

It’s easier to admire than enjoy 2013's Hard to Be a God. The 177-minute final film directed by Leningrad-born Alexei German depicts medieval squalor and butchery so intensely that the viewer is forced to shrink from its portrait of life without culture, humanism, and soap. Like another protracted masterpiece, Béla Tarr’s 2011 The Turin Horse, German’s miasmic swansong imparts its riches mostly after being endured and reflected upon.

It’s easier to admire than enjoy 2013's Hard to Be a God. The 177-minute final film directed by Leningrad-born Alexei German depicts medieval squalor and butchery so intensely that the viewer is forced to shrink from its portrait of life without culture, humanism, and soap. Like another protracted masterpiece, Béla Tarr’s 2011 The Turin Horse, German’s miasmic swansong imparts its riches mostly after being endured and reflected upon.

Adapted from the novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, whose Roadside Picnic begat Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Hard to Be a God was filmed between 2000 and 2006 and, following German's death in 2013, finished by his wife and co-screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita and their son Aleksei German Jr. It’s set on Arkanar, a planet stuck in its own Dark Ages, which scientists from Earth have pledged not to end artificially. Until there’s a renaissance, all intellectuals, artisans, and artists must seek refuge or perish. Pol Pot’s Cambodia and contemporary Iraq and Syria are evoked, though German was presumably looking back to Stalin's USSR.

One visiting scientist, Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik), has persuaded the Arkanarians he’s a god and roams the land as a noble (and hygienic) knight rescuing the reviled “smart arses”; his search for a royal doctor, Budahk, supplies the movie’s quest. Though there’s a series of vivid rendezvous and bloody encounters, and roving single-take shots give the illusion of a Brueghelian panorama, German’s literally tight focus on Don Rumata and his retinue’s tortuous progress gives the impression of stasis, or even retrogression.

Hard to Be a God is more muted than Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998), German’s hallucinatory vision of the anti-semitic “Doctors’ Plot” to kill Stalin. However, it shares that film’s satirical humour, along with the viscerality and exoticism of Ardak Amirkulov’s seismic Genghis Khan epic The Fall of Otrar (1991), which German co-wrote and produced. The new DVD and Blu-ray extras include Karmalita’s introduction, a career profile of German, and an interview with German Jr.

Miasmic swansong imparts its riches mostly after being endured

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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