This relentless journey through the slimiest, bloodiest and most vile of human societies may just be a modern masterpiece…
This is the last film from Russian filmmaker Alexei Yuryevich German; it haunted his mind for a large portion of his life and he spent his last fifteen years working on it before then dying in 2013. His son then took up the mantle to add the finishing touches to his father’s dream project. Throughout the film we are dumped in a place that strongly represents Medieval Europe at its most nightmarish. Every frame is crowded with a collected onslaught of death, shit and mud. Everyone here has a cold and sniffs and squelches their way around the town, hardly noticing the mud, excrement and vomit which makes up their streets and which occasionally drips on them from above. It’s a stomach churning place in which beauty and humanity is not easily found.
We are introduced to a man and told that he is treated as a God by the locals, earning their respect… or if not respect then their fear by his presence and his divine ancestry. This however is a sham, for this is an alien planet and he has arrived from Earth in order to observe and perhaps help facilitate their imminent renaissance. This plan never came to fruition though because instead of celebrating art and science this society decided to drown their intellectuals in their cesspits and cut the throats of all of those who begin to display any true sign of intellect or artistry. No longer charged with a mission this man simply began to exist in this place, blending in with the locals and attempting to gain some small semblance of luxury in this hellish landscape. Stomach churningly tactile in its approach this insane portrait of another world is both deeply uncomfortable and inescapably compelling viewing.
This staggering portrait of a man who, despite having the perceived power of a god, is unable to change the world around him against the relentless tide of war, depravity and the collective base humanity which underpins us all. The question which haunts the film though is to what degree he still views this world through our eyes, and if indeed perhaps he has begun to enjoy his position in this bleak new world. Part political allegory, part dystopian fiction, part philosophical work… German’s last film isn’t easy to pin down, and neither should it be. It crafts a world that’s rank and repellent and yet which is also rich in humanity in all of its various shades and varieties. With its roving camera work which seeks to implicate its audience in the action, the sensory overload that its crowded frame hits us with and the complex portrayal of a life lived in hell there is simply too much to take in here with one viewing. An overwhelmed viewer is left to contemplate that indeed it’s hard to be a god, but it seems it is harder still to judge one.
Hard to be a God is out in the UK today! Will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!