Aleksei German’s sci-fi epic Hard to Be a God is now out on DVD/digital platforms from Kino Lorber. Fifteen years in the making, the film was close to completion when German passed in 2013, and was finished by his widow and son.
Based on the 1964 novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God is the story of Anton, a scientist-researcher from Earth’s future, who has been stationed on a far-off planet populated by a human civilization that hasn’t advanced beyond the Middle Ages. As rendered in German’s hyopnotic, hallucinatory aesthetic, which features some of the year’s most heroic wide-angle camerawork, Anton’s experience on this planet is a phantasmagoria of violence, sex, flatulence and mud. His position as an observer demands that he merely watch as life in his small village trudges onward, but when a group of religious fanatics begin wreaking havoc on the town, he’s spurred into action.
Hard to Be a God isn’t an easy watch, but it rewards the patient viewer. It’s simultaneously a great work of science fiction and an authentically rendered, immersive medieval epic, and in that collision of far future and recognizable past, we can locate a rigorous philosophical inquiry into the nature of progress, the role of science and the power of religion. It’s sure to turn up on many, many lists of 2015’s best films.