Saturday, August 08, 2015
tricky being a deity
Aleksei German, Hard to Be a God (2014)
Quite extraordinary cinematography and production design, with very long takes which must have been very carefully planned but almost never feel like set pieces (nor do they feel improvised); the editing is fluid and joins the takes rather than setting them off from one another as exercises in virtuosity. Nor is the film divided into sections - even at the various points where it fades to black, one seems more often than not to return to the same scene, with the result that one never gets to relax one's attention. I read the novel on which it is based about a week before watching the film and having done so the plot was actually pretty clear (my companion at the showing hadn't read it and was entirely baffled throughout!); but even so there are things in almost every frame ranging from the obvious to the utterly inscrutable. Which I think is intended to emphasize that this is not the Earth - it really is an alien world and so even if we can come to understand the people inhabiting it, their assumptions, reactions and behaviours couldn't but initially confuse and alienate (ha!) us.
The huge number of characters looking directly in the camera did seem initially just to be a weird affectation (entertaining though it is), but about half way through I wondered if they were meant to replicate Don Rumata's experience. He is assigned to observe but having to be immersed in the world in order to so, and hence he is himself observable. So to evoke this German does not allow the cinema audience their customary comfortable position of being able to watch without feeling themselves to be seen. Which I realize means nothing to somebody who hasn't seen the film! It's certainly not a comfortable experience but if you want to see something that really is remarkable, and merits the much-abused epithet that it isn't like anything else you've seen then I highly recommend it. But if you're interested in plot, maybe read the book first.
(Oh, & I would have preferred it if the saxophone playing had been rather more Peter Brötzmann than it is...)