← Back to Reviews

Hard to Be a God

Hard to Be a God (2013)

I very much enjoyed the novel, but had the impression that this would be its own entity considering how artsy it looked. It retains & distorts some of the Strugatskysí premise, then leads the viewer down an exponentially weirder and nastier path. Forget about storytelling conventions. The purpose seems to lie in immersing you in a warped monastic world.

A scientific team of Earthlings is sent to assist/study a human-like planet undergoing its own medieval period. Even knowing the basis, I had some trouble keeping up. Without the book lending me context, I probably wouldíve been S.O.L. The dialogue feels like a multi-directional bombardment from a batsh*t ensemble, and much of it seems inserted simply to weird out the viewer. Extras are almost ubiquitous, and most appear to have been lifted from a sideshow. Characters even occasionally break the 4th to include the viewer in dialogues. The story would technically fall under science fiction, but genre elements obviously take a backseat to the quasi-medieval environment. I believe I wouldíve preferred it in color, or at least a washed-out tint, to drab B&W though.

Heed my warning: this is vile and repulsive as can be, with an emphasis on spittle, lower intestines, and ass-slapping. Harsh as it is, itís hard not to laugh at some of the oddball hysterics and vulgarity. Thereís also noteworthy sound design that creaks, cracks, drips, & thumps, and the absence of a score puts it at the forefront.

Now, the level of detail in this movie is just absurd. The sets are crammed with furnishings, each painstakingly gone over and given grit. All dwellings feel like they were lived in by grimy hoarders. The detail isnít just in the visuals either. Most of the long tracking shots have myriad elements that pop in & out of view and demand perfect timing. Love it or hate it, itís a super impressive undertaking.

Iíve read comparisons to Tarkovsky, but that really doesnít do the style justice, nor does it give viewers an entirely accurate impression of what theyíre in for. It does have a ton of the foggy landscape photography, but it molds its own style with wide-angle close-ups, an uber-bizarre & colorful ensemble (with no redeeming personalities), and pervasive steadicam movement. Itís made up mostly of long tracking takes, but the pace isnít slow. This isnít an art film that dwells on sluggish philosophizing. Itís a radical exercise in grotesque immersion. It feels like a deranged medieval rollercoaster. Walking around after 3 hours of that, I felt like my head turned into a damn steadicam.

"My glasses. I can't find my glasses."

Little late for the umbrella.