Hard to Be a God
Directed by Aleksei Guerman
January 30-February 8 at Anthology Film Archives
In Sedmoy Sputnik (1968), Aleksei Guerman’s first (co-directed) feature, two former members of the Tsar’s army imprisoned by the Bolsheviks discuss Tolstoy on the occasion of his birth. One murmurs, “Russia’s great writer.” “What’s that?” the other ruefully asks. “Another century… another planet.” Although Guerman, who died in 2013, would later disown it for being trite propaganda, many elements of Sedmoy Sputnik are oddly echoed his final film, a cannily warped adaptation of a Strugatsky Brothers short story, just now being released here. Hard to Be a God begins in medias res, a voiceover explaining how a group of scientists discovered the planet Arkanar, an identical copy of Earth where the Renaissance never happened: All of the intellectuals, artists, and skilled craftsmen are being systematically killed off. (In an early scene, a wise man is lowered headfirst into a public toilet.) The ever-present protagonist—only known by his pseudonym, Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik)—traveled to the planet to observe and not interfere with society’s development, and lives as a nobleman descended from divinity.