The cause was heart failure, his son, Aleksei Jr., also a filmmaker, said in a blog post on the Web site of the radio station Ekho Moskvy.
Mr. German shot to fame in the 1980s with "My Friend Ivan Lapshin," which told the story of a Soviet policeman who is trying to solve murders in a provincial town and is caught in a love triangle, told from the viewpoint of a man who had witnessed the events years earlier as a child. The film recreates the bleakness of everyday Soviet life in great detail.
"The main thing was neither the crime story nor the love story, but that period of time itself," Mr. German said in an interview. "That's what we were making a movie about. To convey that period was our main and most difficult task."
But the accuracy of Mr. German's portrayal of the era was too much for Soviet censors, who shelved the film after it was completed in 1982. It was not allowed into wide release until 1986, during the reformist years of perestroika.
Mr. German's first solo film as a director, "Trial of the Road," was also shelved by the censors. The story of a Soviet deserter in World War II who had collaborated with the Germans but seeks redemption by commandeering a Nazi supply train, it was filmed in 1971 but not released until 1985.
Mr. German often collaborated with the screenwriter Eduard Y. Volodarsky, who died in October.
Aleksei Yuryevich German was born in Leningrad on July 20, 1938, the son of Yuri German, a Soviet writer on whose stories "Trial of the Road" and "My Friend Ivan Lapshin" are based. Besides his son, the director's survivors include his wife, Svetlana I. Karmalita, a screenwriter who worked with him.
Mr. German graduated from the Leningrad Theater Institute in 1960 and began working in 1964 as an assistant director at the Lenfilm studio. He battled in the post-Soviet era to save the studio from collapse, "at the cost of his health," his son wrote in his blog. In 2011, Mr. German and the director Aleksandr Sokurov wrote a letter to President Vladimir V. Putin entreating him to save the studio.
His film "Khrustalyov, My Car!" about the anti-Semitic "doctors' plot" that targeted Jewish doctors for allegedly plotting against Soviet leaders in what turned out to be Stalin's final days in 1953 was panned at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, but is now widely considered a classic.
At his death, Mr. German's last film, "It Is Hard to Be a God," was in postproduction. The film is based on a novel by the Soviet science-fiction writers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky ; an allegory about the Stalin era set on another planet, it is now interpreted as an allegory about the Putin era as well.
In an interview with Snob, a Russian magazine, in 2010, Mr. German described the filming of "Khrustalyov, My Car!" and his ability to convey a sense of doom.
"It's 1953 in the film, a time of repressions and darkness," he said, "and I chose actors with the stamp of death on their face. I sensed this. I always sensed this."