Hard to Be a God is unremitting in its bleakness. Based on the novel of the same name by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and directed by the late-Aleksei German (who spent the last 15 years of his life putting it to film) the movie follows scientists sent from an unidentified future time on Earth to the planet Arkanar, which is nearly identical to Earth but stuck in the Middle Ages.
While the scientists were originally intended to observe the society and peacefully help it enter a Renaissance, that never happened. Instead, the civilization reacted against intellectualism, destroying its universities and hunting down and executing anyone who shows signs of artistic, philosophical or scientific thinking—usually by drowning them in an outhouse. The Earth scientists, forbidden from intervening violently, are left to navigate brutal superstitions and inhumane conditions while trying to save as many so-called "wise guys" as possible.
Beautifully set and shot in black-and-white, Hard to Be a God comes off as a tone poem rather than a straightforward narrative: scenes are disjointed and dreamlike; the Russian translation is labyrinthine; characters leer and caper for the camera in sinister, unexplained asides; and everything is covered in some kind of muck.
As the title suggests, the film explores the moral and intellectual challenges faced by a moral and intellectual person living in a society that has morally and intellectually failed.