Gabriel Winslow-Yost at the New York Review of Books:
“The Renaissance didn’t happen here,” the voice-over declares, in the opening minutes of Alexei German’s Hard to Be a God. In this final film of his career—now receiving a belated American release at Anthology Film Archives in New York—the late Russian filmmaker immerses us, without respite, for nearly three hours, in his reimagined Middle Ages. I don’t think any film has ever depicted a world so awful with such conviction.
Hard to Be a God was apparently six years in the shooting and another six in post-production. German did not actually quite manage to finish that before he died in 2013; his wife and his son, also a director, did the last of the sound mixing. But the wonder about this exhausting, astonishing film is not that it took so long to make, it’s that it got made at all.
It is, ostensibly, a work of science fiction, adapted from the novel of the same name by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (whose books were also the sometimes tenuous bases for Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Alexander Sokurov’s Days of Eclipse, among many other Russian films).