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Film: Hard to be a God
Original Name: Trudno byt bogom
Country: Russia
Director: Aleksey German
Genre: Sci-Fi
Length: 177 mins
Links: Letterboxd, IMDB
Rating: 4.5/5
Trailer: Click Here


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Hard to be a God is a unique and immersive experience containing a plethora of visual and auditory stimulation—from the masterpiece cinematography (reminiscent of Takovsky’s Stalker) to the high quality sound mixing. Every detail of this work is masterly crafted, presenting the viewer with a mesmerizing and unique film. Despite my praise so far, I don’t believe this film is for everybody. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in the technical aspects of a film, as the subject matter becomes much more enjoyable than if you’re watching solely for entertainment. Films aren’t just about the stories they tell, as there are equally important roles in film making that turn the final product into a worthwhile experience. Therefore, if you don’t have a strong stomach and need a definitive plot—look elsewhere. If you want to be transported into another world on the other hand…

htbagThe opening shot introduces a village. The trees, the tents, the structures all feel wild since the lines throughout this frame are everywhere; out of shape and non-linear. You’re welcomed into this world, where the set is the personification of the chaos that is to come. The film starts off in chaos and ends with it—from the actors, the props, the set– everything is in a constant state of turmoil. Actors walk across the screen, interrupting other characters who are talking, only to be pushed out the way; Props adorn the frame, sometimes making it hard to see what’s going on, eventually get pushed away as well. Even the camera itself is pushed away. This type of interaction produces a certain intimate feeling, especially when the actors occasionally look straight into the camera, giving the illusion you’re one of them, a fellow comrade. This perspective really enhances the experience, as if to ease you into this commotion with a sense of comfort–the comfort of being part of their world.
Easing the viewer into this world begins with the cinematography. The chaotic state of this world is presented so well. Close ups of the character’s feet, the horses, the clothes, the food, the armor,even genitals are shown. Nothing is hidden, which gives the sensation of being a natural part of the cast and the world they inhabit. These different close ups and angles give insight into how this world feels like to the rest of the people there. The amount of detail put into the set and the costumes is already apparent without the close ups, yet they enrich the involvement of the viewer to another level. Even the transitions between frames are fascinating, closing in on an object with intricate designs and as the viewer is mesmerized, the object paves way to the next scene. The illusion of physically being there, looking around, admiring something that catches your eye, and then suddenly being brought back into focus by an occurrence is the best way I can describe this approach.

htbag1The visual stimulation is guided with excellent sound editing and mixing that I can only describe as an auditory orgasm. Every sound is rich and clear, fine-tuned to give the best listening experience. The voices are clear and there are no extraneous environmental sounds. You hear what you need to hear. I had to pause and savor how amazing the sound mixing was, especially in the scenes where there are multiple sounds and I can hear them each individually with no distraction. The sound effects stand out even more with the lack of background music. The only music comes from their man-made instruments or vocal sounds like whistling, singing, etc. This really encompasses the raw and barbaric nature of the film. It’s quite evident that the director spent years on the sound of the film.

Despite having some stunning cinematography, the world you’re thrown into is disgusting and dirty. Everybody has poor hygiene, nobody has clean clothes, and the cast is basically all toothless. This world is engulfed with dirt and feces. Not only is this due to the visual imagery, but also the sound that companies which amplifies the effect exponentially. For example, the sound of goop is especially disgusting because of how distinct and clear it sounds as if it’s dripping within inches of your eardrums. Yet, there is something oddly visceral about this mélange of beauty and crudeness. I think having these beautiful shots juxtaposed besides the most deplorable subject matter is enticing, which is probably the whole point of the film. The plot itself is hard to follow along: the events occur seemingly randomly, there are no clear reasoning given to the intentions of the characters, and murder seems senseless. There’s a character that calls himself order, and you’ll see exactly what they thought of his “order” and everything he represents. Order, logic and sense having no place in the world the characters built for themselves. Everything you know and believe, all the rules of conducts, morality, ethics are broken. As the characters smear what looks like dirt on their face, madness is actualized.

htbag2Stumbling upon this alien world–this pandemonium of filth and depravity– the immersion makes returning to the real world a little disorienting. The experience becomes unforgettable after seeing a personalized view of what could’ve been. This is what humans would look like if they killed off all intellectuals: Disease ridden, disgusting, ugly, barbaric, and absolutely foolish.

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