Review of Hard to Be a God (2013)

Moving picture, 177 minutes

Seen in 2014.

I saw it at GIFF 2014, with poor English subtitles and welcome clarifications by the director’s wife and co-writer, Svetlana Karmalita.

Russian art film based on the Strugatskys’ Hard to Be a God (1964). Aleksey German had originally planned to make this film in the 1960s, but permission was revoked(?) by the censors because of the decision to crush the Prague Spring in 1968, in what is now the country where the film was made. This is entirely appropriate: The novel was admired by the Soviet intelligentsia as a comment on Soviet terror and anti-intellectualism, which were finally cemented in the invasion of Prague. Thus, like the Strugatskys Roadside Picnic (1972), the film is an allegory of the context of its own production.

Fortunately, it’s also a fine study of dark-age mentalities and perhaps the most carefully considered, intentionally unenjoyable fantasy of wish fulfillment on film. Some of the dubbing and foley work is a little off, and it may be a little more pretentious than Tarkovsky. I asked Karmalita if any animals were harmed in the making of this film. She said no: the cow was old! It was going to be slaughtered anyway.

moving picture fiction