Hard to Be a God

Nasty, brutish, and long, this Russian sci-fi epic by Aleksey German (Khrustalyov, My Car!) takes place on a neighboring planet whose culture lags some 800 years behind our own (the clothing and structures resemble a Brueghel painting). A team of earth scientists has been assigned to a city surrounded by a stinking swamp, and the commander rules like Caesar over a community of mud-splattered, snot-blowing numbskulls. German spent more than a decade developing this adaptation of a novel by Boris and Arkadiy Strugatskiy, and the resulting film is awesome in its imaginative detail and overwhelming cruddiness. A maddeningly obscure plot inclines one to focus on the landscape, a harrowing black-and-white world where slaves work the local mines, whores are executed with a giant slide that plunges them into a massive wooden dildo, a character runs up to display a handful of torn-out eyeballs, and both men and dogs and hanged and left to rot on the public byways. In Russian with subtitles.