Aleksei German‘s Hard To Be A God is sci-fi in the Tarkovsky tradition, very much a state of mind rather than flashy tech and shiny spaceship CGI. The film is based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky‘s 1964 novel of the same name, and was completed after the director’s death by his son Aleksei German Jr.The back story is that a group of earth scientists (although they don’t seem very scientific) have been sent to a alien world, a planet whose evolution is currently entrenched in the unprecedented filth of mediaeval squalor, their mission to help (or is it just to observe?) this fledgling civilization. Civilization, or should that be lack of, as this is a world locked in an endless cycle of ignorance with the local militia slaughtering anybody that doesn’t grin like a gormless idiot (mostly directly into the screen). forget Bansky, this is the true dismal land. Nick Cave‘s biblical epic And The Ass Saw The Angel‘. Everything is clogged down, covered in omnipresent mud, hope reduced to a withering reflection in the cold grey water. You could say this is very Russian, and the kaleidoscopic camera work sucks unflinchingly at every grotesque detail, swirls manically from extreme claustrophobic close-ups to wide-angled sweeps in a bewitching monochrome that enfolds our film’s protagonist, Don Rumata. Every frame is insanely choked in a curio-shop intensity that knots you up in waves of utter bewilderment. A bewilderment the viewer shares with Rumata as he tramples his non-intervention pact into the mud and plays god with this alien world’s future. where the camera sees beauty where there is none and shows us how fragile the notion of civilisation really is.