Film lovers… Strugatskiis fans… Russian science fiction watchers… your moment has (almost) arrived. Fifteen years in the making, the long-awaited magnum opus of the great Russian director Aleksei German Senior, who sadly passed away on Feb 21st of this year, is about to premiere at the Rome Film Festival next week (Nov 8th – 17th). It’s Hard To Be A God (which had the working title of The Arkanar Massacre) is black and white and 170 minutes long. This, his final film, co-authored with his wife Svetlana Karmelita, is based on the well-loved science fiction novel It’s Hard To Be A God (Трудно быть богом, 1964) by Arkadii and Boris Strugatskii (see previous blog post for Boris Strugatskii’s obituary). A prior screen version of the novel made in East Germany, Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein (dir. Peter Fleischmann, 1989) is available on YouTube (purportedly with English subtitles).
It’s been a sad year for Russian science fiction, with the deaths of the great director German and the much-respected author Boris Strugatskii following close on each other. Let’s hope we will soon have the opportunity to watch It’s Hard To Be A God on screens closer to home.
Here’s a useful site with links to other pages; and for Russian speakers, here’s a link to Ksenia Chudinova’s review in Snob magazine. Her review is ironically titled ‘It’s hard to be a viewer’. She writes that although the cream of Russian intellectual circles was present at the pre-premiere screening in Russia in April (when the film was not yet fully sound-edited), many exited the auditorium mid-film, loudly banging doors. She writes: ‘Meanwhile, on screen an ambitious and primarily physiological bacchanal unwound: close-ups of mud, animal and human excrement, blood, guts, a donkey’s penis, a woman’s vagina, crumpled clothing, horses, dirty fingernails, animal corpses. The characters are constantly defecating, spitting, scratching themselves, beating each other, cutting stomachs and throats, copulating or killing each other. Without speaking’.
Mikhail Khodorkovskii’s PA Kulle Pispanen, who also saw this first public screening, described it as ‘not a simple film, and definitely a bit of a downer’ – my free translation of ‘непростое зрелище, и совсем не деньрожденьческое‘. She described Aleksei German Jr, the director’s son, who contributed to the final edits, as ‘crushed’ (‘раздавлен’) by the audience’s response. Still, all the best productions get terrible audiences on their first night. Take The Inspector General… The Seagull… The Playboy of the Western World!
Here’s a kinder review by Boris Akunin, writing as Grigorii Chkhartishvili, also for Snob: he is more sympathetic to German’s unusual sound and visual effects, interpreting the film’s medieval chaos as a parable for modern societal dysfunction.