Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hard to be a God (orig. Трудно быть Богом) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
KinoNews.ru listing*
KinoPoisk.ru listing*
Kino-teatr.ru listing*
Megacritic.ru listing*

Afisha.mail.ru (S. Orlov) review*
Chastniy Korrespondent (N. Bayman) review*
Chastniy Korrespondent (A. Grand) review*
Gazeta.ru (V. Lyashenko) review*
Film.ru (B. Ivanov) review*
Kinoafisha.ru (E. Savoyskiy) review*
KinoArt.ru (E. Stishova) review*
Kommersant.ru (L. Maslova) review*

APUM.com (A. Castro Tallón) review*
AVClub.com (I. Vishnevetsky) review
aVoir-aLire.fr (F. Mignard) review*
critic.de (N. Klingler) review*
electronicsheepmagazine.co.uk (P. Kapitaniak) review
Respekt.iHned.cz (K. Fila) review*
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
SoundOnSight (L. Palmer) review
Slant Magazine (C. Gray) review
Twitch.com (A. Vijn) review
Way Too Indie (C.J. Prince) review

KinoNews.ru viewer comments ;-)*
RIA.ru viewer comments*
IMDb message board

Hard to be a God (orig. Трудно быть Богом) [2013] [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Aleksey German [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]* [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* along with Svetlana Karmalita [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* based on a classic Soviet-era Russian science fiction novel by the same name [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]*[GR] [WCat-Eng] [WCat-Rus] [Amzn-Eng] [Amzn-Rus] by the Strugatsky brothers [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]* Arkady [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Boris [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a PONDEROUS (nearly 3 hour long) LARGELY EXCREMENT COVERED (LITERALLY...) BLACK-AND-WHITE SCI-FI-ISH EPIC about a "cousin planet to Earth" whose CIVILIZATION NEVER SEEMED TO LEAVE THE MIDDLE AGES.  It has also been also critically acclaimed and won 7 Nika (the Russian equivalent of the Oscars) Awards (for best picture, director, actor, production design, costume design, cinematography and sound).

Adding to the film's mystique is that director Aleksey German [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]* [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* worked on this project for ANYWHERE BETWEEN FORTY (!!) and (merely) EIGHTEEN YEARS, including SIX YEARS OF SHOOTING, before DIEING while he was "in the editing phase" (the film was completed by his wife and son).

The film played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center and is available for streaming for a reasonable price through the Amazon Instrant Video service.

What to say about the film?

First and foremost, the film is an adaptation of the FOURTH NOVEL of a SERIES OF TEN (10) SOVIET-ERA RUSSIAN SCI-FI NOVELS describing the "Noon: 22 Century Universe" [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]* imagined / created by the Strugatsky brothers [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]* Arkady [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Boris [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb] during the Soviet (Communist) Era.

The story here takes place on a planet called Arkenar [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]* (its principal kingdom), which is inhabited by human-like beings BUT when first discovered by Earth appeared to be 800 years behind the Earth in its cultural development, that is, in the early stages of the Renaissance.  So Earth sent a team of 30 scientists to the planet to _observe_ what was expected to be the flowering of an Earth-like Renaissance on this cousin planet.  Yet to these scientists' surprise / increasing horror, the budding Renaissance appeared to be snuffed-out by a harsh "Reaction" against it.  The film's initial voice-over notes that first Arkenar's University was closed down and then most of its "knowledgable ones" (the writers, poets, talented artisans) were either arrested / killed or driven into exile in smaller outlying kingdoms/principalities.  As a result Arkenar was FROZEN in the Middle Ages.

What to do?  The Earthling scientists sent to the planet had been instructed to follow a "directive" similar to that of American Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek creation: NON INTERFERENCE in the development of alien worlds.  So the Earthling scientists, who as humans in a world inhabited by human-like creatures, took identities in the Arkenarian world, were required by their orders / code of conduct from Earth to simply _observe_ what was going on.  Okay, they could apparently seek to "protect" individuals who they deem to be potentially important to the planet's development, but even this was to be done in a discrete sort of way (above all, using the technology of the people at hand).

Well, for one of the scientists, Don Romata (played by Leonid Yarmolnik [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KT.ru]*) this proves to be increasingly hard to bear.  And eventually after spending much of the film searching for / surreptitiously protecting a potential "person of import" named Budakh (played by Evgeniy Gerchakov [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KT.ru]*) from the tyrannical Arkenar Kingdom's Prime Minister, Don Reba (played by Aleksandr Chutko [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KT.ru]*), Don Romata reaches a breaking point ...

Now the key word in the last sentence of the plot description is "eventually."  The pacing of this film will probably upset many luke-warm movie-goers.  For the film's pacing is _intentionally_ if perhaps infuriatingly slow.  Why make a movie that is PONDEROUSLY SLOW MOVING?  Well...

(1) With almost no doubt, the film (as also the book series on which it was based) was at minimum intended to provide a Russian (and at least in the case of the original book series, Utopian Communist) alternative to Western (often American) Sci-Fi narratives.  American Sci-Fi narratives are often "shoot-em ups." British / W. European narratives, while less "gun happy" are generally faster-paced (and generally DON'T assume that "Communism won" ;-).   IN THIS STORY, there is a "Scientific Communism (or at least a kind of Utopian Rationalism to which Communist ideology aspired) won on Earth" assumption on which the actions of the Earthling characters in the story is predicated.  The Earthling character(s) in this film ACT SLOWLY because they ACT DELIBERATELY / RATIONALLY, etc.

(2) Putting aside pure-and-simple ideological reasons for making this film in a ponderous arguably neo-Soviet style ... the story RESPECTS the SCIENTISTS (the ANTHROPOLOGISTS) in the story.  Okay, these Earthling scientists came to this world expecting to be observing / reporting-on something nice -- the development of a Renaissance-like stage of cultural development on an alien world -- and instead found themselves observing / reporting-on a SHOCKINGLY / DISAPPOINTINGLY TRAGIC "ALTERNATIVE" to that stage of Earth's (or at least western civilization's...) history.  Yet, A SCIENTIST'S default training / instinct would be, in fact, TO OBSERVE / REPORT (where-ever "the experiment" leads one) rather than TO INTERVENE.

(3) Viewers get to appreciate why the film's central protagonist, Don Romata, FINALLY DECIDES TO ACT.  There's no short hand here.  We get to walk with this character for nearly 2 1/2 hours in the mud, grime of the world which he was inhabiting and get to experience the shocking-offense of that kingdom's rulers' "return to ignorance" campaign seeking to _keep their people_ LITERALLY "STUCK IN THE MUD" ... BASICALLY FOR ... FOREVER.

(4) The film itself becomes A THREE HOUR IMMERSION EXPERIENCE in the mud, grime of the Middle Ages, reminding us why it's generally a good thing that we've moved on ...

'Cept (5) HAVE WE, ALL (!!), really "moved on"??  This is the most fascinating part of this story: RUSSIA ITSELF, FAMOUSLY, NEVER WENT THROUGH THE RENAISSANCE / ENLIGHTENMENT.  Instead, it jumped basically from Feudalism to a kind of (Communist) Modernism, both of which proved very repressive AND even today Putin is trying _really hard_ to lead Russia once more in a pointedly NON-WESTERN (non-Libertarian) SORT OF WAY.
So as Russia appears to be entering into yet another period of cultural stagnation / oppression, the film shows (metaphorically), above all to Russia itself, what the alternative to Renaissance / Enlightenment looks like, and ... it's not pretty.

So while this is a ponderous three hour film, mostly through mud / possibly excrement, it is excellent. And it gives viewers many, many things to think about.  All in all, a truly excellent job!

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