Hard to Be a God
Thursday 9th October, 2pm – BFI Southbank NFT1
Saturday 12th October, 5pm – Ciné Lumière
The perspective is impossibly close and the frame of view is packed with nauseating minutiae of a fantasy planet stuck in the squalor of the middle ages: Hard to Be a God depicts the life of men from Earth on the medieval planet Arkanar, a place that escaped the renaissance and remains in eternal putridity. Women are wet nurses or clad in chastity belts and the men flog their slaves and each other for bravado kicks; it’s like watching a visual diary of hell.
For those requiring subtitles it’s a challenge to decipher the story while being bombarded with the rich grotesqueness of the imagery and the claustrophobic cinematography. To really grasp the plot, repeated viewings would be necessary. However at three hours of slow-pace exploration of a modern person’s hygienic torture, the possibility of even a second viewing is very small. In truth the story is weak, however it seems that director Aleksei German’s focus was not on the narrative at all.
It’s hard to completely damn this film. If you step back from the sheer repulsiveness of the content and filth of the life being depicted, it does have redeeming features conceptually. With the camera itself often being bumped into and its movement like that of a person, is not completely invisible; that is to say, the men in front of it acknowledge it. Almost in the same way people in a candid documentary might acknowledge being filmed by looking into the lens, though it is clearly fictional it creates uncertainty about the camera’s role.
Unsurprisingly, the film itself took 15 years to make; the detail and thorough realness of the set is unbelievable. Everything is covered in mud, snot, faeces and blood as well as being under constant threat of waterfall-like rain. Completely immersive, it is a viscerally sensory experience that is sure to result in acute feelings of bodily disgust.
The layering to the costume and depth of both the interior and exterior sets are extensive, almost as if it were a 3D film. It’s gluttonous in a way that makes you feel like you need a cleansing shot of open space or clear sky, but there is no such mercy.
While it is painstakingly graphic and is extremely well made in terms of film craft, as a film experience its just assault after assault on the senses. It is strong and it is unique, but there is very little joy in it.
Hard to Be a God is released in the UK on 9th October 2014.
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Watch the trailer for Hard to Be a God here: