16th Sep2015

‘Hard to be a God’ Blu-ray Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Leonid Yarmolnik, Gali Abaydulov, Yuriy Ashikhmin, Remigijus Bilinskas, Aleksandr Chutko, Valeriy Boltyshev, Evgeniy Gerchakov, Yuriy Tsurilo | Written by Aleksei German, Svetlana Karmalita | Directed by Aleksei German


Cinema is often described as an experience; it can be emotionally draining and even an endurance. Hard to be a God (Trudno byt bogom) is one such film, and at three hours long it takes some watching; but for fans of cinema, it is worth every minute of it…

A group of scientists are sent to the planet Arkanar to aid it though the medieval phase of its history. Not permitted to interfere violently they are forbidden from killing. When one of the Scientists Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik) tries to save the local intellectuals from being executed, he is finally pushed into action. Put into the position of a God, Rumata ponders what he can do, knowing the whole time that his actions are fruitless in the scheme of things.

One thing that Hard to be a God seems to do is rip up the rules of cinematography, grab you by the neck and drag you into the chaos that is Arkanar. Director Aleksei German drags us into his vision of hell and instead of guiding us by the hand; he makes us feel as if we are a part of it, lost in the chaos. Using long shots and forcing us to watch through the perspective of the scientists we are forced into a hyperrealism. Making the inhabitants of Arkanar continually pay attention to the camera, get in the way of it, and even have conversations with it create an experience that is excessively intimate at times for the audiences. This is what makes Hard to be a God such an endurance.

On this Arrow Academy Blu-ray there are interviews with German’s son, as well as his wife who also provides an introduction to the film. These work well to open up the film to more understanding. To understand Hard to be a God the two documentaries included by Daniel Bird and Michael Brook help to open up the film and the life of the director up to better understanding. This is helpful when, expecially in the UK, we’ve not had that much exposure to the director’s work.

While it is made clear that Hard to be a God does work as an allegory for Russia, the film doesn’t do this in an explicit way. It is easy to understand the underlying message though, and that is the question, can “God” actually take action to make things go the way they should? Society will go by its own rules whatever you do, thus it is Hard to be a God.

Looking at the film in a critical way you could say that the films weakness is that the story itself is too ambiguously handled in the film. This may be true, but even in its weak state it is there. Watching the special features you do learn what the story should be, though I find you discover your own story in it. This may be a reason why this isn’t a film for everybody, though if it grabs you then you’ll realise just how good it is.

Hard to be a God is a work of art, it is that simple. There are certain shots that are breath-taking, when you have the chance to notice them. Most times though you are being dragged through a Bedlam like insanity with Rumata trying to form some way of helping the society survive. Whether he is part of the problem of course, is another question that he may not like the answer to.

Arrow Academy have presented the film with very impressive quality. A release definitely for fans of film it is definitely a hard sell for those who want a film that is easier to understand and endure. More about art and anarchy rather than storytelling, the message is easy to decode, even if any sense of normality is not. Hard to be a God is well worth watching, if you are willing to experience hell in the process.

***** 5/5

Hard to be a God is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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