Monday, August 24, 2015
In Aleksei German’s ‘Hard to Be a God.
In the last issue of Neil Gaiman’s legendary graphic novel series, Sandman, there is an epilogue about a man named Hobbs, who is from the 15th Century, and who is immortal, following a friendship with the Lord of Dreams. Hobbs is now in today’s America and has a black girlfriend, who works in a Renaissance Fair. Hobbs accompanies her and he complains that the fair is nothing like the Middle Ages. For one thing, the Middle Ages stunk and there were excrements everywhere.
Nowhere is this aspect of excrements and dirt and total lack of hygiene during the Middle Ages is evident than Aleksei German’s Russian film ‘Hard to Be a God.’ Based on a book by the famous Strugatsky brothers, the film is a medieval tale disguised as a science fiction, where a group of scientists from modern day earth discovers an earth-like planet, which is still in the Middle Ages because Renaissance did not come, as the ruthless feudal lords of the planet decided to kill all free-thinking, creative men (you can probably read the whole thing as an allegory). The scientists decide to observe the society up close with any intervention. So, they send one of them to their midst, who presents himself as a Don and a descend of the Gods. He is scientifically aware in an ignorant society, yet he cannot help them, for he is forbidden to do so. Yet, as a story progresses, he cannot even distance himself from the plight of those people.
I cannot recommend you to watch this film in good conscience. It’s a difficult watch. There is enough much of dirt and grime to make you retch and this is just the surface. It’s a good thing that German decided to shoot the film in black and white. Yet, this is an extraordinary achievement, a film like none other.