legendary Russian auteur Aleksei German’s final film—an adaptation of
science fiction novel Hard to Be a God [Трудно быть богом] .
Ticket Information: Free and Open to the Public
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courtesy of Kino Lorber:
A group of research scientists has been sent to the planet Arkanar, living under an oppressed regime in a period equivalent to earth’s Middle Ages. The local population is suffering a ban issued on anyone who knows how to read and write. The scientists must refrain from influencing political and historical events on Arkanar. They must work incognito, and they must remain neutral. Don Rumata, recognized by the locals as a sort of futuristic god, tries to save the local intelligentsia from their punishment. He cannot avoid taking the stance: “What would you do in God’s place?”
Adapted from the 1960s cult sci-fi novel “Hard to Be a God” by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.
Hard To Be a God is a project that Russian director Aleksei German had been considering since the mid-1960s. German tried to make it as his debut film as early as 1964. Instead, he made Trial on the Road in respect to Lenfilm, the historic production company for which the director worked throughout his career. The project was later approved by Goskino, the State agency responsible for organizing filmmaking in the Soviet Union, but in 1968, after the uprising in Prague, the authorization was revoked for ideological reasons. Twenty years later the director returned to the project, but decided instead to make a film that would take him a long time to complete, Khrustalyov, My Car! Ten years later, after stating “I am not interested in anything but the possibility of building a world, an entire civilization from scratch”, German committed his efforts to Hard to be a God. The film was shot between the autumn of 2000 and August 2006: it even involved the construction of castles near Prague and on the sets at Lenfilm; the shooting took so long that some of the actors died of old age; the post-production phase took over five years. German died on February 21st, 2013; the film was completed by his wife and closest collaborator, Svetlana Karmalita, and by their son Aleksei A. German.
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“We had introduced new technical things that other filmmakers arrived at years later. Of course, all these things get older. Of course, it’s a tragedy. The cinema is a constantly developing kind of art form. It gets old very quickly.”
Aleksei Yuryevich German was born in Leningrad in 1938. His father, Yuri P. German, the famous, award-winning “humanistic” Soviet writer, a friend of director Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold, convinced him to enroll in the Faculty of Theatre Directing in Leningrad. After graduating, German collaborated with Georgy Tovstonogov, a key figure in Soviet theatre in the 1950s and 60s. In 1964, the director began to work with Lenfilm, the oldest “studio” in the Soviet Union, which became the cradle of auteur filmmaking. In 1967, he made his first film with Grigori L. Aronov, Sedmoy sputnik [The Seventh Companion].
In 1971, German finished Proverka na dorogach or Operacija “S novym godom” [Trial on the Road], inspired by a novel written by his father. The film, set during World War II, was immediately forbidden with the excuse that it distorted historical facts: it was not released until 1985. In 1977, the director made Dvadtsat dney bez voyny [Twenty Days Without War], inspired by the novel by Konstantin Simonov, the famous party loyal writer who defended the film before the leaders of the Central Committee and ensured its distribution. In 1984, German again worked on one of his father’s novels and made his most famous film, Moy drug Ivan Lapshin [My Friend Ivan Lapshin], set in the early 1930s. German’s portrayal of Soviet history irritated the Party and the film was immediately withdrawn from movie theatres. To survive, German wrote screenplays together with his wife Svetlana Karmalita, under her name alone.
German’s parabola of life and creation was fraught with events that were as tough as they were dramatic, and which reduced his opportunities to personally develop his own projects. During the longest period of his inactivity as a director, in 1988 German and his companion in life and work Svetlana Karmalita did however create and direct the Studio for debut works and experimental films at Lenfilm, a structure to develop debut works by new directors which produced eight feature-length films, as well as shorts and animated films.
With the advent of the 1990s and the new political situation, German worked on Khrustalyov, My Car!, released in 1998, after being presented in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. In that film, German came to the conclusion that after the horrors of the Stalin era, art was no longer possible in its previous form. In 2000, the director, finally recognized as one of the great masters of Russian filmmaking, and honoured with many awards, began to work on the epic project of Hard To Be a God, inspired by the famous eponymous novel by the Strugatsky brothers, which took thirteen years of hard work. In this work, German portrayed an entire civilization onscreen, reviewing the history of humanity with ruthless precision and enormous compassion.
Aleksei German died on February 21st, 2013. The film Hard To Be a God was completed by Svetlana Karmalita and by their son Aleksei A. German.
Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:
6/7/15 – After Hard to Be a God‘s debut at Festival internazionale del film di Roma, film critic Olaf Möller was awestruck. From his review of German’s final film in Cinema Scope: “It is 170 minutes long, black and white, beautiful, brilliant, and like a message from a different time—past or future, who knows … Hard to Be a God is a monstrous and strikingly Russian Orthodox huis clos, convinced that change will come but miserably resigned to the fact that nothing can be done to speed that escape from suffering. Which is to say that German not only still believes, but knows that above all we are frail and weak, even in our bravery. Neither God nor nature really wonders, let alone cares, about our hopes and desires—they simply, irrespectively deliver what will come. Fuck you, mankind, and be happy for what you’ve been given. Quite a final statement.” – link
6/19/15 – “This is visionary cinema of truly loopy, uncompromised grandeur” Neil Young, indieWIRE – link
6/21/15 – “After submitting oneself to German’s final film—and it is indeed a process of submission, far more than a conventional viewing experience—it is difficult to refrain from entertaining a rather morbid thought: This is the kind of film that kills its maker….This is as tactile and visceral as cinema gets…” Michael Sicinski, Museum of the Moving Image’s Reverse Shot – link
6/25/15 – “Not only an unforgettable individual masterpiece but probably one of the capital-G Great Films” Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com – link
12/13/15 – Fandor posted a video essay attesting to why Cultivate Cinema Circle alum Hard to Be a God might be the best film of 2015 – link
1/8/16 – Artvoice‘s Jordan Canahai has named his Top 10 films of 2015, including two Cultivate Cinema Circle alums among the ranks: HARD TO BE A GOD & THE LOOK OF SILENCE! – link